Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen


Title: When the Sea is Rising Red (Hobverse, #1) 

Author: Cat Hellisen 

Rating: 4 Stars

When we first meet Felicita in When the Sea is Rising Red, she is a wealthy young girl stifled under the pressures of her caste. Felicita's best friend commits suicide escaping an arranged marriage and Felicita, bound for the same fate, fakes her death and runs to the Hob, filled with lower-caste individuals without magical ability. In Felicita's world, an addictive substance known as scriv is capable of unleashing the powers the Houses possess. Meanwhile, those of the lower caste systems must suffer in poverty or find ways to make money. More often than not, this either means becoming a prostitute or offering to allow a vampire to drink your blood. Bats, as the vampires are mockingly called, are another class entirely, below the Houses but not quite at the level of the Hob folk either. While the Houses are structured in typical fashion - patriarchal societies - the vampires are matriarchal hierarchies for only the females are born with magical power.

When Felicita runs away from home in the beginning of 
When the Sea is Rising Red, she is desperate. In an attempt to keep herself alive, she finds herself in the midst of flimsy friendships, shocking betrayals, and facing hasty decisions with unexpected consequences. When the Sea is Rising Red brings about both the best and the worst in Felicita, enabling her to understand her moral limits in a manner that is, frankly, disquieting. Felicita is, however, a remarkable protagonist. While her circumstances force her to regard both her societal status and previous lifestyle differently, they also propel her into darker paths. For the majority of her life, Felicita has lived following a code of strict guidelines. Naturally, when given the opportunity to make choices of her own, Felicita makes plenty of mistakes. When the Sea is Rising Red never attempts to gloss over the gravity of the difficult situations Felicita finds herself in, which I appreciate. While this is marketed to teens, I would argue that a handful of scenarios are, certainly, more adult in their nature. 

Evidently, though, the strongest area of When the Sea is Rising Red remains its world-building. Hellisen has created a rich, complex world, one in which heavy disquiet runs among all the social classes. Although there this plenty of action towards the end of this novel and the pace moves rapidly, the conflict remains political at heart. Hellisen, though, has mastered the art of showing her universe to her readers in small, seemingly insignificant snippets which contribute to the depth of her world as a whole. Instead of blatantly describing her fictional land in a series of paragraphs, there is a sense that each chapter adds a new layer to the sphere she has created, which I appreciated as both a reader and a lover of words. Even beyond her world, though, the dual nature of her secondary characters keeps the narrative afloat for though their presence may be minimal, it is thought-provoking. 

Where this tale tends to falter, for me at any rate, is in the fact that there are multiple story lines. Once in the Hob, Felicita meets Dash, an enigmatic young man whose confidence boasts of taking down the Houses and their ridiculous caste system. Into this mix is thrown Felicita's encounters with the vampire Jannik who brings her into his world, different though similar to both her own and what she has experienced in the Hob. Additionally, the death of Felicita's best friend continues to hang over the land and rumors of a sea witch rising from the waters haunt the streets. While all of these converging plot lines eventually come together in a startlingly original manner, the plot threads do become ever-so-slightly choppy at times through the middle of the narrative. 

Additionally, the romantic entanglements within this novel are...strange. It isn't quite a love triangle, at least not of the usual variety, but while I enjoyed the ultimate revelations and outcome of the romance in this novel, I was never attached to either of the love interests. But, then again, I do not believe I was meant to be. Felicita never truly falls in love in this installment. While she believes she has strong feelings for a character, they do not overtake the plot at hand and neither do they play a strong role in her own growth. Instead, there are a plethora of stronger, more true emotions regarding the characters in question which contribute to the gray matter and brilliance of this novel. Thus, for those looking for an epic love story in the midst of a rebellion, When the Sea is Rising Red isn't your best bet. (Yet, I encourage romance fans to stick to this series if they enjoy the paranormal for the romance in House of Sand and Secrets is ALL kinds of swoon!)

Nevertheless, there is so much to love within When the Sea is Rising Red, from its complex world to its even more complicated characters whose mistakes are exposed for all the world to see, right alongside their strengths. Another point to note about Hellisen's universe, though, is the fact that it boasts of LGBT characters. It isn't unusual or even regarding as peculiar for two men or two women to be involved in a relationship. For sexuality to be embraced in such a bold manner, particularly in a world where individual freedoms are generally restricted, spoke volumes about equality and diversity in both this fictional world and our own very real one. Needless to say, for fans of the paranormal with just a touch of fantasy magic, romance, and strong contemporary relationships, When the Sea is Rising Red offers something to love for everyone. Moreover, for those looking for a haunting, thought-provoking read, Hellisen's debut is sure to keep you up late into the night. And, really, aren't those the best kind of books?

20 comments:

  1. I'm not a huge fan of paranormal romance. Since mentioned the love triangle is not the usual variety. I'm convinced to give this book a chance. Lovely review, dear (:

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  2. I remember being so intrigued when this book came out but I had forgotten all about it until now. It sounds so interesting and unique

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  3. Oh, I'm so glad you enjoyed this, Keertana! It's such a strange and beautiful story, but I'm never sure what people will make of it. I quite liked that I was never sure of where the story was going to go next, and it's so different from most YA paranormals out there.

    Are you going to read the sequel, which I believe she self-published last year? I haven't gotten around to it yet, I'm afraid, but I'm very curious about where the story will go next.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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  4. Ooops, I just reread and saw that you have already read the sequel! WELL. I look forward to hearing what you thought of it.

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  5. I recently read a book with really crappy world building so anything WITH fantastic world building is perking my interest lately. This one does sound unique.

    Lovely review! <33

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  6. While the various plot threads do make it seem like this story might get a bit tedious at times, I'm so glad they come together in completely original way in the end. That definitely has me curious and makes me want to pick this one up so I can find out what's so startling about it:) Beautiful review as always Keertana!

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  7. Oh, I loved this one so much, Keertana, so I'm glad to see you did, too! I think it was just so eerily original that it was hard not to overlook the flaws! Great review :)

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  8. oh a good world building makes me a happy camper! The story and the characters sound complex but great.

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  9. The cover is very creepy cool, me likey

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  10. This sounds like a book I would really enjoy. I love the way this is a bit different and feels original even though some parts bothered you. Hm... I might really have to pick this one up!

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  11. I remember seeing this book around and I mean that cover is hard not to notice. Now I need to have it. I never bothered to see what's the book actually about so after reading your review I cannot but slap myself. It sounds so good and the whole idea with caste seems amazing. Felicita seems like great character as well. Great review, Keertana :)

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  12. Oh-- fabulous review Keertana! I am just as enamored with this story, these characters and this world as you are! I live how you described Hellisen's world building-- how she a master of showing, presenting snippets and adding subtle layers, she is such a fantastic story teller:)

    And I'm so excited to read your review of House of Sand & Secrets! Loved it even more:)

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  13. The fact that the romance was strange has me giving this book some pause. I'm reluctant to pick it up because of mixed reviews, but I'm glad to hear you mostly enjoyed it! Lovely review, Keertana!

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  14. I have this book on my wish list since 2012 .i think , I need to get a hardback soon before it goes out of print ( I think it will be in a yr or two ,sadly ) tnx for the review keertana

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  15. I enjoyed this book so much. The story world was so imaginative and well-drawn that I thought it almost overshadowed the characters at times. And I loved the fact that the romantic entanglements went into directions that YA books don't usually venture.
    Great review!
    Jen @ YA Romantics

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  16. Oooo! This sounds fantastic. I've had this on my tbr list forever, but haven't read any reviews for it and your review has made me so interested in reading it. This sounds fantastic. Great review, Keertana!

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  17. For some reason I thought this was an adult novel, it sounds like it at first. There seems like so many things going on but this story appeals to me. I do love paranormal romance! Excellent review, Keertana! :)

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  18. I noticed that you gave the sequel five stars (which I know is incredibly rare for you), so I'm intrigued. I remember reading Heather's and Lauren's rave reviews a few months ago, and now to read yours on top of that means that I really should consider reading this one soon. I do love my politics in stories, and it sounds like this one has that in spades. I'm still not quite sure what this is supposed to be about, but perhaps it's better that way. I'm glad you enjoyed this one so much, and that you found the sequel even better. Always a good thing. :)

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  19. What's interesting about this romance to me - and also painful - is that Felicita is very much the Other person in the triangle. As in it's more Jannick and Dash with her as the outsider, or at least that's how it read to me. I also found it hard to tell what Dash felt for Felicita, if anything. I agree that the romance wasn't my strongest element, and I like what you said about Felicita having stronger "more true" emotions. Your review is a very thoughtful assessment as always.

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