Book Review: When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen

Elegantly written and executed with smart, sexy tact, When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen is unlike anything on the YA shelves these days. Sure, it has vampires and magic and romance … but these ingredients are so cleverly concocted in Hellisen’s fantasy universe, that each element feels brand new.

After seventeen-year-old Felicita’s dearest friend Ilven kills herself to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege. She fakes her own death and leaves her sheltered life as one of Pelimburg’s magical elite behind. Living in the slums, scrubbing dishes for a living, she falls for charismatic Dash while also becoming fascinated with vampire Jannik. Then something shocking washes up on the beach: Ilven’s death has called out of the sea a dangerous wild magic. Felicita must decide whether her loyalties lie with the family she abandoned . . . or with those who would twist this dark power to destroy Pelimburg’s caste system, and the whole city along with it.

When the Sea is Rising Red is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in ages, in many ways reminding me of the stunning prose of Maggie Stiefvater. Hellisen’s turn of phrase is gorgeous and makes reading her book a pleasure, just to savor her use of the English language.

The fantasy world Hellisen has created in When the Sea is Rising Red is vastly different than our own, yet she writes it in a way that makes it easy to immerse yourself in without getting lost. (That’s a key complaint I’ve made about fantasy in the past … there’s no such problem here!) Hellisen invites you into her universe, and immediately you can see it’s charm — from the riches of the magical elite, to the slums of the lower classes.

And when you’re not busy being seduced by Hellisen’s world and her writing, her characters will entice you further. Readers will no doubt cast their lot with either the street leader Dash or the vampire Jannik (I’m with Jannik, 110%) — but each young suitor offers plenty to fall in love (or lust) with.

When the Sea is Rising Red is a book full of characters and new worlds that will seduce you from page one, and keep you enraptured until the very end.

When the Sea is Rising Red is in stores February 28th.

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