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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.
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Cat Hellisen lives in Capetown, South Africa, near the sea, and drinks a lot of tea. She tends not to start revolutions. When the Sea is Rising Red is her first novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
SHE’S NOT HERE.
I hunch deeper into the protection of a small copse of stunted blackbarks. Condensed mist drips down the dark leaves and soaks my shawl.
Come on, Ilven. As if I could force her to appear by the power of thought.
Across the close-cropped lawn, House Malker’s gray stone face waits, a patient prison. In just a few days Ilven’s family will ship her off upriver to some Samar wine farmer, and today is the last chance we have to be alone together.
Mother won’t miss me for ages yet—I can risk waiting a few minutes more for Ilven to show. My stomach churns. I hope that no servants saw me leave and that my mother is still at her writing desk, engaged in scribbling long missives to her beloved son, Owen. So beloved, in fact, that he never bothers to leave his town house to see her.
Mother’s schedule is narrow and predictable. Like all the women in the High Houses, her life is ruled by a list of acceptable and appropriate behaviors, all of them dictated to her by men. First her father, then her husband, and now her son. One day that will be my lot, I suppose, and it’s this thought that made me convince Ilven to run off with me into town to be nothing more than free Lammers for a brief afternoon. Excitement swirls in me and my breathing goes tight.
The minutes stretch, and my hands are slick from the cold and the dampness of my clothes.
Ilven’s not going to make it. Her mother, for all that she’s tiny and delicate as a glass doll, is a frightful drake. If that cold witch caught even the slightest wind of Ilven’s jaunt, then my friend is probably locked in her room.
The memory of our last meeting returns to me. It seems a lifetime ago, and yet only a bare few days have passed. Lady Malker’s words are still fresh as I remember the hate I felt when she stared me down, my friend cowering behind her.
* * *
ILVEN REFUSES TO LOOK AT ME. She twists the new silver band on her smallest finger around and around until the skin is red. I cannot draw my gaze away from this tiny detail that has changed everything between us.
“We have many preparations to make,” says Lady Malker. There is something frosty about her, and when she talks I expect to feel her breath against my face like a winter sea-gale. Instead, her voice is calm and quiet, but hidden under it are snake-hisses and sneers. “Ilven will not be available for your games today, Felicita, dear.” There is a subtle emphasis on games and dear. Nothing overt—I am, after all, from House Pelim—but enough for me to know that Malker are determined to claw their way up to their old level on the social scale. It’s a warning of sorts.
I look past Lady Malker, ignoring her.
Ilven’s shoulders are hunched. Her pale face is marked with tears, the shadows under her eyes bruised black and purple. Seeing her like this strikes at my very heart. If Lady Malker were not here I would fold Ilven in my arms and kiss her white-gold hair, tell her that everything will work out somehow. Instead, I clench my fists tighter and raise my head high. I cannot show weakness in this House. Rumors would spread, and my family would lose face.
“I thought you were going to come to university with me next year?” It’s a stupid thing to say, but I have nothing else. I can hardly ask her about this marriage in front of her mother. I already know all they’re going to tell me.
“Samar will have tutors,” Ilven mumbles, staring at the polished white floor. Her pale hair is held back with a little metal pin decorated with the four-pointed emerald leaves of her family’s crest. Those tiny green leaves are a lie—promising growth where there is none.
I want to scream. My friend doesn’t mumble. She doesn’t walk with her head down. She doesn’t quietly accept that her education will be left in the hands of boys fresh from university.
“Ilven?” I want to remind her that she is a person who kicks off her shoes and stockings to run across the green fields behind our estates, that she once helped me play pranks on my idiot of a brother, that we are sister-friends, that we have kissed and sworn eternal friendship.
She looks up, and her eyes are pleading. She wants me to stay. She wants me to go.
“Perhaps we could arrange a little going-away party,” Lady Malker says. “Something for the ladies.” Her laugh is like the colored glass baubles the lower War-Singers make as frivolities.
A going-away party. We dress things up with pretty words. My friend is not going on a pleasure jaunt, or a holiday upriver to see the ruling city of MallenIve. They are selling her off to some nameless man with arable land. They are selling her for caskets of wine.
“It will be fun,” she says. “I’ll write you letters.”
I hide a tight smile. Ilven’s been locked up before, not allowed to see anyone for weeks on end, but we have a system. There are servants we can trust. I have Firell, and she, some poor sallow Hob girl, with one eye gone milky from a childhood illness. These two pass our letters between them, keeping our secrets. “And I’ll write back,” I say.
I bow my head to Lady Malker and take my leave.
There may be nothing I can do to stop Ilven’s marriage, but I can try to make her last days here in Pelimburg ones she will remember.
* * *
THOSE LAST DAYS have crept by all too quickly, and instead of running with Ilven through the town as we planned, I am crouched in a spinney, getting progressively more rain-damp, while Ilven is trapped in her rooms, imprisoned by her mother. I shift position to ease cramps in my legs and stare across the misted lawns. Nothing.
There is a scrawled note in my pocket, and I take it out for the thousandth time. The oils of my fingers and the humid air have turned the ink blurry, the paper grubby and thin, covered with Ilven’s small neat hand that, like her, tries not to draw attention to itself.
I read it again. No, this is the date she set—the only time when she would have the chance to leave the house unnoticed. My heart sinks. I feel like I’ve failed her, that somehow I should have just had the courage to walk out of my house and into hers, take her hand, and, without asking, without showing fear, lead her down to the town. There I would have bought her a gift, held her close, and kissed her goodbye.
However, I’m not willing to tuck tail and go back home yet. If Ilven can’t be with me, she would be happy just to hear whatever stories I can bring back to her. The city is calling, full of promises. Ilven would want me to go.
A rational voice is telling me to forget about it—I’ll have plenty of time to see Pelimburg properly soon enough, when I go to further my magic studies at Pelimburg’s university. Then again, I’ve never been overly fond of rational thoughts.
Perhaps I could still buy Ilven a gift in town—something for her to look at and remember me by. So with my heart giddy-thumping like a lost uni-foal, I race through the gray drizzle and down the hillside to New Town. My mother’s claustrophobic fears slip from me as I hurtle downhill. The cold leaves me exhilarated, shivering.
Pelimburg is a city of rain and mist and spray. It’s supposed to be my home, but a lifetime lived in my mother’s cage of a mansion means that I barely know it. I’ve only ever seen the city from the confines of a carriage; now I breathe deep, tasting how different the air is, how sweet the drops feel on my tongue. Up on the hillside, the rain seems bitter and darker.
The umbrella twirls in my hands, dancing. Goodbye, Ilven. I close my eyes for a moment, pushing away my sadness and letting my face go blank as the chalk cliff, before setting off again.
“Watch it,” someone grumbles as I pass by, and water spins from my silk umbrella. Not a person here knows or cares that I am from the highest House in the whole city or that my family once owned every cobblestone of every street that webs Pelimburg, as my mother is wont to point out. Of course, that was before the scriven here ran out and half the Houses packed up to follow Mallen Gris to found the city-state of MallenIve. Now our House is a relic, a thing of former glory.
I take in the strangeness of a city that knows my name but not my face. There’s a portrait of me in the University Gallery, as there is of every Pelim since my ancestor decided to raise the building, and I suppose were I to go to the center of New Town, where the oligarchy of the three remaining Great Houses—Pelim, Malker, and Eline—meet and make their plans, perhaps someone would recognize me. And if none of them did, there are a host of lower High Houses like Skellig and Evanist scrabbling for a place in the gaping holes of the Great House ranks; one of their members would sell me out, blacken my honor in order to play their power games. After all, we are the pinnacle and the very city is named for us.
Dogs, I think. All of them. Showing their bellies when they want something, snarling in packs when that doesn’t work.
I want to be far away from that, from people who hate me because I was born into the Pelim name. And what is a Great House? As Ilven points out, we’re merely the kings of the midden. The ranks of Houses below us do not understand that there is safety in powerlessness. No one is waiting for them to fall.
Instead of heading toward New Town, I take Spindle Way and cross the Levelling Bridge, plunging between its high dark houses, under the laundry lines that drip overhead, and over to that strange forbidden quarter where the aboriginal Hobs and the low-Lammers without magic mingle: Old Town.
Just past the end of the bridge, Spindle Way feeds into a broad road that runs along the curve of ...
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Book Description Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR). Hardcover. Condition: New. 0374364753. Seller Inventory # M-2-153
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