Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: House of Sand and Secrets by Cat Hellisen


Title: House of Sand and Secrets (Hobverse, #2) 

Author: Cat Hellisen 

Rating: 5 Stars

This review is Spoiler Free for When the Sea is Rising Red, Book 1 of the Hobverse Series (My Review HERE)

It has always seemed, to me at any rate, that a novel is best as a stand-alone. Especially if it is part of a series. When each installment can remain strong on its own merit, while also building off of its predecessors to add depth and focus to characters we've already given our heart to, a story's full potential is reached. Urban Fantasy authors have seemed to master this trick early on, as has Cat Hellisen. While House of Sand and Secrets is a true sequel to When the Sea is Rising Red, enabling the pairing of these two books to blend together perfectly as a duet, it also stands alone, as Hellisen apparently intended for it to.

The Hobverse novels are intended to be composed of a series of stand-alone companion novels. Nevertheless, I encourage readers to pick up 
When the Sea is Rising Red before reading House of Sand and Secrets, merely because the character development, an arc that ties together both these novels, is integral to understanding these complex individuals. When House of Sand and Secrets begins, Felicita is no longer in Pelimburg, the city of her birth. Now, having run away again, she finds herself thrown into yet another societal mess. Yet, this time, it may be more than just her life on the line. Felicita has done the unthinkable: married Jannik, a vampire. As the head of their household, a strange role-reversal from the norm, Felicita carries little influence among her male counterparts in respective Houses. Nevertheless, as lone vampires slowly begin to be killed off, one by one, and the movement to diminish the status of the vampires to mere animals takes off, Felicita is determined to ensure that no one underestimates her, least of all, herself.

Felicita and Jannik's marriage is, foremost, one of the strongest aspects of this novel. While there seems to be little love between the two, their union charged with heavy dislike and bitterness, it remains a complex three-dimensional relationship. For one, Jannik is Felicita's inferior, meant to be nothing more than a slave to her by societal standards. Only Felicita truly understands the intelligence and heart that lies beneath the cold exterior Jannik puts forth. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Felicita knows Jannik is her equal, her actions - quite unintentionally - do not always convey this fact. While I enjoyed Jannik's role in When the Sea is Rising Red, he remained ever-so-slightly aloof and detached from Felicita. In House of Sand and Secrets, we eventually peel back the layers to his complex personality and the man he keeps hidden inside is one I couldn't help but fall in love with. Felicita and Jannik's romance is a slow-burn, full of the torturous one-step-forward-two-steps-backward dance which I anticipate. Although their relationship is hurtful, from the barbs they throw at one another to the actions they commit, it is a realistic portrayal of messy, honest love at its best. Not everyone will love it - and it certainly isn't for those readers who love their romances tied up with a bow or need declarations of love to cement a relationship - but the words that go unsaid between these two are far more romantic than those that do. And, honestly, that's the type of romance I can swoon for. 

While the secondary characters remained dark, complex, and strange in When the Sea is Rising Red, thrown into the equation between Felicita and Jannik in House of Sand and Secrets are Isidro and Harun. A vampire and a House Lammar, Isidro and Harun's relationship is similar to that shared between Felicita and Jannik. As such, their two Houses remain lone friends, isolated from the human partnerships shared within the other Houses. Isidro and Harun are key characters in House of Sand and Secrets, more so than the secondaries in When the Sea is Rising Red. I've come to love this pairing just as much as Felicita and Jannik, which speaks volumes about their development. Nevertheless, it isn't smooth sailing when it comes to these two pairs. Both Felicita and Harun are reluctant to forge a partnership, though the need for it becomes evident, and their interactions are far from friendly at first. Yet, the complexity of these friendships and the individual relationships intertwining between these pairs, only add to the excellence of this installment as a whole. 

In a field dominated by alpha male heroes, Hellisen cleverly subverts this rather tiresome trope. Felicita, for instance, is superior by rank and birth than Jannik and, even when it comes to their relationship, she winds up taking the reigns. When it comes to Isidro and Harun, on the other hand, two males, Isidro comes across as the stronger of the pair, more decisive (and impulsive) in his thoughts. Although Isidro is a vampire slave, according to societal rules, his relationship with Harun remains equal regardless. Obviously, the main plot conflict in House of Sand and Secrets is the societal inequality present between the Houses and the vampires. Even beyond that, however, Hellisen explores the inequalities within House marriages as well, providing readers with a well-rounded image of her world. While there are plenty of sly political conversations to keep our minds occupied, there are just as many heart-pounding action sequences. Unlike its predecessor, House of Sand and Secrets flows as a much smoother story arc, developing a few main characters extremely well while simultaneously balancing a complicated plot line. Contrary to the occasional choppiness of narration I felt at times with When the Sea is Rising Red, Hellisen has improved as a writer with just this one volume. 

Ultimately, this sequel is an extremely strong - and certainly better - novel than is typically expected of a second book. Although I do believe that Hellisen has two more novels in the works for the Hobverse Series (hopefully still following Felicita and Jannik!), this book can be read as both a stand-alone and the conclusion to an extremely satisfying duet. House of Sand and Secrets remains a character-driven tale and, unlike its predecessor, I'd argue that this installment definitely falls into the Adult genre. Its content is mature, dark, and often unsettling for its characters refuse to fall into simple black-and-white categories, but the novel is strengthened by these very same qualities. Felicita is a lively, feminist heroine, one who falters but continues to pick herself back up despite those mistakes. While the events of When the Sea is Rising Red do play an integral role in her growth, much of her maturity stems from a sense of self-realization as she begins to comprehend what she truly feels from what she thinks or has lead herself to feel. House of Sand and Secrets is one of those rare, vibrant novels whose characters will not leave me, despite the distance I place between myself and the story. It is deeply thought-provoking, movingly romantic, and heart-wrenchingly satisfying. A definite favorite of the year, this is one story I don't want to forget. 

A huge thank you to Heather @ The Flyleaf Review for lending me a copy of this! :)

17 comments:

  1. You definitely got my attention in saying that this is a great sequel, it's really impressive these days because so many sequels seem like filler.

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  2. I love the feeling when a sequel is better than the first! It's like it was worth the wait. >.<

    Fab review, Keertana! <33

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  3. This is such a gorgeous review Keertana, I have had my eye on When the Sea is Rising Red, ever since I read a review for it over on Lauren's blog and although I was quite wary about jumping into the paranormal genre again, I think this series truly sounds like something that I would enjoy! The characters and world sound absolutely amazing and I'm glad that you were able to enjoy this second book even more! :)

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  4. Hmmm. I didn't realize this was related to When the Sea is Rising Red because the covers have absolutely zero similarities. I know they're companion novels, but still, it might be nice if they were tied together graphically somehow:)

    And now I've digressed about the cover and not the story, well done me. Glad you felt this was a strong second book Keertana, I love the stories where the characters stick with me well after I've finished the book!

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  5. I skimmed through your review, as I'm half way through When the sea is raising Red and I want the second book to be surprising. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Keertana!!

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  6. I keep thinking Alien when I see that claw

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  7. I love it when books feel like standalones or a solid ending to a duology. I mean you don't need cliffies to make me want the next book... just need a good book. So need to get that first one! Now I need this one as well!! :)

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  8. Hmm, I couldn't get into When the Sea is Rising Red, but maybe I didn't give it a good enough try. You make me want to read every book you review. And give up reviewing, yours are so good, intelligent, down to earth and thought provoking. I love reading your thoughts, it gives me such a different perspective on books in general. I think I'd really love this book with the relationhips, the slow burn as you call it, but I like that you say there is more going on "in the words that go unsaid between these two".

    It' a wonderful review, Keertana.

    Heather

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  9. I actually had no clue that WHEN THE SEA IS RISING RED had a companion novel! I find this terribly exciting because Cat creates these visually artistic and atmospheric novels with her words so well. Needless to say, a five-star review from you has me entirely sold! Great thoughts, Keertana!

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  10. THAT is a slightly creepy cover. I'm always intrigued when a sequel is stronger than expected. It always makes me want the first book! I know you didn't enjoy WHEN THE SEA IS RISING RED, so I'm thrilled to hear you enjoyed this one. Great review, Keertana!

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  11. adl;fkja lgj laj

    FIVE STARS? Seriously, FIVE STARS? You are making me feel awful that I haven't had a chance to read this yet, but I am suuuuper excited to see your rating! Which, if I'm remembering correctly, is even higher than your rating for the first book.

    I peeked at your opening paragraph, and I agree--some books are best left as standalones, but I'm so glad to see that this defies that feeling. Yay!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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  12. Wow, I had no idea there was another book in this series! I loved When the Sea is Rising Red, it was such a unique world and I loved the unconventional relationship dynamics. I am dying to get my hands on this after reading your review! I loved Jannik in book one, and I can't wait to see how his relationship with Felicita progresses in this installment. Lovely review!

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  13. Like many others I'm totally lost. I had no idea that this is actually a sequel. Interesting. I'm so glad you enjoyed it and the progress of the characters is always something I want to see in books. Great review, Keertana :)

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  14. Ever since I saw your review of book 1 I was curious. It sounds so well done and i do enjoy character driven books. Always pleasant when the sequels go just as strong as some tend to kind of weaver.

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  15. YAY!!!! I am so thrilled that you loved this book, Keertana, I gave it 5 stars as well--it pulled me out of a terrible reading slump that I had fallen into last year. I agree with everything you say here: this book is so complex and intricate. Everything works: the character development, the romance, the wonderful story of racial and social inequality--all of it is just so well done. I feel sorry for readers who haven't started this series because they are truly missing out. I really look forward to reading the next installment in this series--that teaser at the teaser at the end has me longing for more. Beautiful review, K:)

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  16. It makes me so happy to see how much you've fallen in love with this series. I agree that this is a stronger novel overall. In the writing, but also Felicita grows so much from the beginning of the first book to now, that I agree this series works best when enjoyed together. Tho I do love your comment about liking that it's standalones too. I still can't' think of the beginning of this book without aching, because Felicita and Jannick hurt each other so much. But I agree, that the romance is one of my favorite aspects, and I loved seeing the fact that they are strongest when working together. I hope they're able to reconnect their mind palaces again. I loved that imagery.

    Also, from what I head (unless it's changed) the next book in the series takes place 10 years after this story and F/J are side characters. There was an excerpt in the version of HoSAS I read. But I'd love more Felciita and Jannick. I really wanted to see them together at the end of this book. But I also love the way it's clear from their actions at the end, how much they care about each other. Lovely review!

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