By: TJ Klune
Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management, he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to the Marsyas Island Orphanage where six dangerous children reside. To complete his case study, Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.
If I could physically keep this book in my heart to retain the joy and comfort it gave me, I gladly would. Reviewers of this book have many times stated that reading The House in the Cerulean Sea is like a warm hug…and they were right! But it’s so much more than that. I laughed, I cried (a lot), and I felt like I was part of the story.
Linus Baker resonates with me personally because I suffer from many of the same feelings and tendencies he exhibits throughout the book: isolation, loneliness, pushing people away who care about you, caring deeply for others while not letting those people get too close, and actively wishing for a life that seems unattainable due to responsibilities but fearing the trial to get there. He also shows how those feelings can be overcome with enough time and the help of others. Linus is also forty years old and therefore unlike the youthfully exuberant protagonists who find love and family early in life. I appreciated that detail not because I’m forty but because I have often thought my life may not completely fall into place until I’m older. It’s nice to know that’s not just okay but completely valid. It gave me hope where I have been feeling short.
I assumed pretty quickly that Linus was going to have a stereotypical arc that entailed a dramatic heart-to-heart with each of the children to earn their trust. Of course that would naturally lead him to find his own heart and wishes along the way. That isn’t exactly true as some of the children and adults trust Linus right away while others are mistrustful and critical. Additionally, of the six children, there are some that get more of a spotlight than the others. Phee for example is a sprite child who barely talks in the story but plays her own unique role. Her presence is always felt and she is just as important as the rest of the children. That’s why this story was so solid and amazing. The loudest characters are often the most remembered and adored but that’s not so in this story. The quiet ones make a difference too.
I would be remiss as a reviewer if I didn’t note the parallels of this fantasy universe to our own. They can seem subtle but once you notice them, they become painfully obvious. The fear and segregation magical youths face mirrors the discrimination people of color have endured for most of human history. The fact that laws that govern magical creatures were all written by people without magic also strongly reflects the ongoing battle women have with bodily autonomy as many abortion laws are passed by men. The novel has powerful messages delivered in a gentler manner as compared to some books that practically scream at you. I could see some people believing the story is childish especially with regards to its positive and encouraging outlook on changing the minds of bigots. But I appreciate that this is a story for all ages written in a format for adults with some adult humor. To be clear though, there’s nothing crude. It’s all perfectly wholesome!
The House in the Cerulean Sea is a heartachingly tender reminder that we can find our place and family at the most unlikely times…and sometimes in the most unlikely places.
Overall rating: 5