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 a richly atmospheric debut novel that blends elements of fantasy, paranormal and a touch of dystopian. The characters are so intricately intertwined that their actions have a profound impact on each other in ways no one could foresee.
After Felictia's best friend Ilven commits suicide to avoid an arranged marriage, Felicita, fakes her own death and runs away from Pelimburg in an attempt to avoid the same fate. She's wants to be able to control her own destiny rather than have it dictated by her cold, abusive older brother.
Felicita is an intriguing character. She comes from a life of privilege and magic but has never experienced true freedom living in Pelimburg's patriarchal society. She adapts fairly quickly to life on the streets without any of the luxuries she's accustomed to and Felicita's world view is widened as she interacts with the people she once thought beneath her.
On her journey she first meets Jannick, a vampire, or "bat", who seems to be a kindred spirit. Jannick comes from a Matriarchal society where a males worth is measured as their value as a breeder. Jannick and Felicita, although from different castes, share the same societal burdens. They aren't allowed to form relationships of their own choosing and must conform to their families will. Their friendship slowly blossoms and was a pleasure to read.
Then there's Dash, a Hob and charismatic leader of a small group of misfits. Felicita joins their makeshift family and becomes close to Dash until he starts acting strange and distant. Dash has a revolution to lead and revenge to exact, making his intentions towards Felicita unclear. Felicita is a War-Singer, meaning she can use magic to control the air around her, making her a powerful potential weapon in Dash's army.
There are some very interesting plot developments and really good twists in this novel. Unfortunately just about everything I could possibly say would be a spoiler.
I'm not normally a huge fan of high fantasy because of the overly descriptive prose. It seems like each blade of grass, each cloud description can take 3-4 pages. In When the Sea is Rising Red however, I felt the opposite. I wish it was more descriptive. There are sea witches, unicorns, Hobs and more but I could never really visualize any of these things or the city of Pelimburg.
Although I liked and rooted for Felicita, I was far more interested in Dash & Jannicks struggles but this is Felicita's story so we don't get to learn as much about them. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the characters fates are irrevocably intertwined but when the BIG revelations were revealed they seemed to be passed over very quickly in favor of the dramatic fantasy scenes which just didn't hold my interest as much.
The ending was a little bit of a letdown compared to the wild emotional swings earlier in the book but the author leaves the door cracked open for further installments. I felt that this book could be read as a stand alone even though I believe it is book one of a new series.
Rating 2 out of 4: When the Sea is Rising Red has a very complex world and plot that might be better suited for older teens.There was no way I could put this book down without finding out what happened to the characters even though the story never quite clicked for me. I should also mention that the majority of Goodreads reviewers felt the exact opposite of me regarding the world building so I would give it a shot especially if you are a fan of fantasy and "OMG what just happened?" plot twists.
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Buy the book! When the Sea is Rising Red
Source: ARC provided by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) for my honest review
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