Review: House of Sand and Secrets

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: House of Sand and SecretsHouse of Sand and Secrets by Cat Hellisen
Series: Hobverse #2
Published by Folded Wherry on October 23, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance
Pages: 287
Format: eBook
Source: Publisher

Sometimes playing to lose is the only way to survive the game of Houses.

Trapped in an arranged marriage to lower-caste Jannik and trying to make the best of her fall from grace, Felicita is immersed in the machinations of powerful families. MallenIve is worlds apart from Felicita’s native Pelimburg, and her family name and standing will not help her here. Haunted by her past and those who died because of her, she attempts to regain her status as the scion of a once-great house.

If MallenIve’s leaders have their way, Jannik will soon have no more rights than an animal, and a union that once seemed to offer a solution to Felicita’s problems is now a liability. Felicita’s feelings are conflicted and it is all too easy to fall into the prejudiced mindset of the higher castes … until faceless corpses begin turning up on the rubbish tips, and Felicita might be the only hope Jannik’s people have.

Set after the events of When the Sea is Rising Red, House of Sand and Secrets is out 23rd October 2013.

There’s a little book you may not have heard of, given the marketing strategies of certain publishers involve not marketing some titles. Cat Hellisen’s debut When the Sea Is Rising Red is a rather strange book, but one that I personally believe deserves a lot more hype than it actually got. I do see where it’s not a book that will work for everyone, but it’s truly original, daring, and utterly fantastical. House of Sand and Secrets leaves When the Sea Is Rising Red behind in quality, feels, and originality, an incredibly rare quality in a sequel indeed.

In most cases, when I see a series go from traditional publication to self-publication or an indie press, I expect a drop in quality, though that certainly isn’t fair in all cases. Still, it’s my gut reaction. Likely, that book would get less thorough editing and would suffer as a result at the very least. With House of Sand and Secrets, I am SO glad that Macmillan didn’t pick up Hellisen’s sequel. Glad as a reader, as whether financially it’s best for Hellisen I couldn’t say. With Folded Wherry, Hellisen has a freedom that she didn’t have with a traditional publishing house. Let the record reflect this is all based on my own speculation and not on fact. However, I have trouble imagining a book like House of Sand and Secrets getting published by any of the larger publishing houses, particularly as a sequel to a novel that was marketed as YA. With the freedom of the small press, Hellisen was able to do whatever she wanted and oh it’s a beautiful (and painful) thing. Also, the writing is superb and the book has clearly been well-edited, so do not concern yourself with these matters.

When the Sea is Rising Red does work as a YA novel, but House of Sand and Secrets would fall under either the adult or NA umbrella. I’ll call it adult, since I haven’t yet purchased a new adult umbrella. A bit of time has passed since When the Sea Is Rising Red, and Felicita and Jannik are attempting to settle into a new city, having moved to escape the events that transpired in the first book. However, their new city is very anti-vampire, which Jannik happens to be. Just a wee bit awkward. In fact, vampires are turning up dead and the high houses might have even worse plans afoot. The plot centers on the racism (not quite the apt term but I’m not really sure what to say – speciesism? creaturism?) against vampires in the new city.

The world in Hellisen’s Hobverse is an incredibly odd one, and you’ll either be enchanted or frustrated by the blend of traditional high fantasy and paranormal elements like vampires. Personally, though I see how odd it is, I love this genre-bending monster of a series. In this mixture of elements generally held apart, something truly novel is born. Hellisen’s series reminds me of nothing else I’ve read, which isn’t a comment that I can give to hardly anything at this point. The magic, the vampires, the unicorns, the high houses, and so much more make Hellisen’s world entrancing and incredibly special.

Where my heart lies, though, as it ever does, is with the characters and the romance, which I’ll come back to in a bit. To be honest, I don’t remember When the Sea Is Rising Red too clearly (which by the way is not a huge hindrance in reading the sequel, though I do want to reread the full series later on), but I do not remember loving Felicita or even Jannik quite so much as I do now. Felicita has grown a lot. She’s a woman now, in a loveless marriage and trapped in a new city. In fact, the opening of House of Sand and Secrets mirrors Felicita’s place in the first novel, with her once again stuck in the social requirements of being the member of a high house and finding them frustrating. Unlike in the first book, however, Felicita doesn’t run away. She plans and works harder than ever. She is smart and brash and honest, and my kind of heroine.

She and Jannik have a troubled history, having both been involved with the same guy. This is kept really low key in When the Sea Is Rising Red (traditional publication and all), but the LGBT-friendly nature of the series is even more apparent now. Jannik and Felicita aren’t physically involved and hardly emotionally involved at the beginning, so she gives him the right to find other company. He does: male company. Felicita and Jannik, out of lack of options, form a grudging but true friendship with Harun and Isidro, a gay couple consisting of a lord and a vampire, ousted from society just like Felicita and Jannik. Also, how much do I love that there isn’t any gay-shaming in this culture? SO MUCH. People aren’t upset about the fact that Harun and Isidro are gay, but that a human is consorting so openly with a vampire.

As time passes, the slow burn kicks up with the romance of Jannik and Felicita, and my god do I ship it. They were friends of a sort and kind of attracted to one another in the first book (hello, bisexual love triangles, I love you), but they also had their greater interest in that other guy who broke both their hearts. They start out hugely uncomfortable with one another and leave a lot of things misunderstood. Then they start talking and having feelings and things get amazing. There’s this one scene that is like holy swoon territory.

House of Sand and Secrets also gets REALLY dark. There’s abuse and death and emotional pain. I almost docked points for a particular trope I don’t like, but damn it I have my feels and I think it was fairly well done as the trope goes. I love that Felicita had to make a lot of really hard choices and that she doesn’t come out smelling like a rose. She’s not an innocent or a heroine, rather more of an antiheroine. No one’s coming through this book totally unscathed and that’s just how it should be.

So, my friends, I implore you, if you’re seeking originality, unique world building, LGBT stories and/or pretty writing, you need to be checking out When the Sea Is Rising Red and then moving on to the sequel, which is actually even better. I am so glad Cat Hellisen decided to give me this sequel I didn’t even know I needed, and by me I mean the world but whatever. Also, there’s apparently going to be another Hobverse book, though more of a companion, and I am excited about that too.

Favorite Quote:

“And Traget only finally got Anna because she was a fool, and he wore her down with all his endless monologuing. You’ve at least spared me that, and I am only a fool sometimes.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


7 responses to “Review: House of Sand and Secrets”

  1. Bonnie says:

    I had no idea When the Sea is Rising Red was the start of a series either! That was one strange but lovely story and to hear this is even better than the first makes me super excited. So glad to know about this! And it’s only $2.99 on Amazon. Sold.
    Lovely review!
    Bonnie recently posted…Book Review – Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert CargillMy Profile

  2. Kayla Beck says:

    Whoa! Is that a 5 star from you?! I think I’m going to have to dig up my copy of the first book to read during my blogging vacation at the end of the month!
    Kayla Beck recently posted…Blog Tour (Review & Giveaway): The Master’s Book by Philip ColemanMy Profile

  3. Johannah says:

    Hi, just browsing the webs. And came across your blog. This might sound like a total nerdy thing to say, but I love the title of this book. I can see me picking it up just based on that alone.
    Johannah recently posted…Book Pushin’My Profile

  4. Gosh–I am so sorry it took me this long to come back and comment! I read your review last Friday–but am just now commenting. I suck like that these days…ANYWAY–love this review, Christina! I pretty much agree with everything you remarked on, including the fact that it just feels WRONG that more people don’t know what a fantastic book When The Sea is Rising Red is–and because of that, not a lot are aware that Cat wrote this sequel which is hands down one of the best books I have read this year. And like you I am not sure why this book wasn’t published through Macmillan like WTSIRR but I agree that it worked out for the better. HOSAS does feel more like an adult book in many ways–though with that crossover appeal in the YA market.

    I love watching how Felicita has evolved, loved the incredible romance with Jannik–loved all the issues of race and class. I think the secondaries are incredible and like you I really love how this book approached homosexuality and bisexuality as a non-issue. HOW REFRESHING.

    Well I could go on but let me just say that like you I thought this was a masterpiece– I love this world Cat has created. Fantastic review:)
    Heather@The Flyleaf Review recently posted…Q & A with Sharon Biggs Waller, Author of A Mad, Wicked FollyMy Profile

  5. I know this book exists and I wants it something fierce, but I keep forgetting to buy it! Ag! And a bisexual love triangle too? Ooooh. I liked When the Sea is Rising Red with reservations, but House of Sand and Secrets sounds kick-ass. My brother will probably give me a bunch of Amazon gift cards for Christmas again and this will be one of my first purchases.
    Ashleigh Paige recently posted…Review: Premeditated by Josin L. McQueinMy Profile

  6. Jessie says:

    Another When the Sea is Rising Red fan! I love that book and it kills me I would NEVER have heard of it without GR/Wendy Darling’s review. Such an odd, weird, creative little novel. I had no idea you were a fan as well. Clearly, your good taste abounds.

    I had no idea that this was moving from traditional to a smaller press. I bought it on ebook when I first saw and wondered why I hadn’t heard about it coming out. Now I know. And, from your comments, I expect the same level of amazing (at least!) as before.

    Hellisen’s worldbuilding is odd. Ashleigh called it “sink or swim” and I always remember that. Either how Hellisen writes works for you, or it really doesn’t. That said… I don’t remember unicorns? When was that?? Or are they new for the second book? I guess I really need to reread this before I dive in.

    I TOTALLY SECOND YOUR LOVE FOR FELICITA. I really grew to like her over the course of the first book and I am excited to see that an even more mature version of her is on the way. Jannik… eh, I can take or leave but as long as Felicita is good, I will be somewhat happy.

    A five star review from you means loads. I guess that means this just jumped to the top of my “me read” list.
    Jessie recently posted…Review: The Promise of Amazing by Robin ConstantineMy Profile

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