Felicita and Ilven are both high caste young women in a society where women are not valued. They have considerable magical abilities which can only be unlocked by the drug skriv - which is addictive and expensive, and so they are largely untrained. Neither of them wants to be married off to some unknown man living far away, and both wind up making disastrous decisions in order to avoid this particular fate.
"Mother, Crone, Maiden" is the story of Ilven's decision, "When the Sea is Rising Red" is Felicita's story, but is largely the consequence of the catastrophe wrought by Ilven. It is a story about wanting more than is being offered to you, and how escaping from a comfortable but stifling future isn't always the best choice. Ultimately it appears that society has failed both of these young women, as well as most of the regular folks. I really enjoyed the perspective that Felicita acquires - she has wound up in a rather decent situation for someone who has run away from home and has almost no useful skills, and yet after a while she would give almost anything to be able to go back home if only to sleep in a comfortable bed every night. She has run away from her family, but still loves them, and is hurt by the fact that other people hate them. These aren't the typical reflections of a runaway.
In addition to some very interesting characters, the world itself is fascinating. The magic-using High Lammers are at the top of society, although their magic is limited by the availability of skriv. Lammers without magic are a rung or two lower, along with the Hob - another race, although both seem quite human. Some of the Hob have magic although having inherent magic is a death sentence if the authorities find out about it. Then at the very bottom rung of society are the Vampires - who have only very recently been admitted to society. Shunned by virtually everyone, the few who do live in town are extremely wealthy and thus much better off than the run-of-the-mill Lammers and Hob. The economic structure of this particular city has been slowly disintegrating and appears poised for dramatic change over the next generation or two. The High Lammers are only just barely holding on to their positions of power. And yet this isn't the only city in the world, there are others with very different economic situations. I'm very much looking forward to learning more about this place.
Overall, a nice quick read with great characters and a really unique world. For a first novel it is really impressive and I'm looking forward to more books by Cat Hellisen.