The House in the Cerulean Sea
by TJ Klune
“Humanity is so weird. If we’re not laughing, we’re crying or running for our lives because monsters are trying to eat us. And they don’t even have to be real monsters. They could be the ones we make up in our heads. Don’t you think that’s weird?”
Published March 17, 2020 by Tor Books
Genre: low fantasy
Date finished: April 13, 2020
Content warnings: references to past child abuse
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 Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. 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.
An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.
My thoughts (spoiler free)
Have you ever read a book that feels like receiving the biggest, warmest hug, like returning home after a long journey? That’s what The House in the Cerulean Sea is.
This book is set in a strict, almost 1984-esque version of the world, in which individuality and freedom of thought are discouraged and everywhere is papered with “See Something, Say Something” propaganda. Linus Baker is a social worker who always does what he’s told. He oversees orphanages of magical children, but he’s careful to never get attached or ask too many questions. Although he has no real friends or family other than his cat, he’s certainly not lonely – or so he tells himself.
Then Linus is sent on a top-secret assignment to an orphanage on a remote island with some of the strangest – and most dangerous – magical children Linus has ever encountered, and their mysterious caretaker, Arthur Parnassus. Though at first he doesn’t understand them, he’s slowly accepted into their lives and comes to see that the home they’ve built on this little island is something special.
“He thought of how his world had been cold and wet and gray until he’d come here. It felt like he was seeing in color for the first time.”
I always love storylines where characters unlearn harmful beliefs that have been indoctrinated for their entire lives through their growing bonds with others, and that’s essentially Linus’ arc in a nutshell. He’s a delightful narrator (he actually reminds me of Aziraphale from Good Omens) and watching him become more himself instead of a government worker with no thoughts of his own is amazing. And, well…
We all know that found family is the best trope, right? Like that’s just an indisputable truth at this point. If you’re as much of a found family fan as I am, then this is the book for you.
I came to know and love every single character in this little family. The six magical children at the orphanage each had their own distinctive personalities, backstories, and struggles. And best of all, they actually feel like kids. Asking inappropriate questions, having no sense of boundaries, being chaos incarnate. Every scene with the kids had me either giggling out loud or clutching my heart because I wanted to protect them.
Arthur, their guardian-slash-father-figure, is easily the standout character of the book, though. His diligent care for each of the children made my heart absolutely melt. Not only does he give them a home and show them that they’re worthy of love, but he teaches them that they can be more than how the world sees them. One of my favorite relationships is between Arthur and one of the kids, Lucy (short for Lucifer, because yes, he is indeed the Antichrist), as Arthur shows him how to be a good person despite where he comes from.
“We are who we are not because of our birthright, but because of what we choose to do in this life.”
Honestly, the relationships that grow over the course of this book are some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Familial bonds, platonic friendships, and one of my new favorite slow-burn romances. Watching Linus come to see the island as a home rather than an assignment filled my heart with fluff and rainbows and happiness.
This book says that everyone deserves a family and a place to call home, no matter who they are or where they come from, which is just about the most beautiful message I can think of. It’s full of love and body positivity and supportive relationships and my heart is ready to burst.
Klune also takes on fear-based discrimination, corruption, mob mentality, and more with such finesse, fitting it seamlessly into this magical world that he’s created. Magical beings are treated with fear and distrust, but this book shows that change can happen, even one person at a time, when people care and try to make a difference. And it has a lot to say about being unapologetically yourself in a world that wants you to be different.
“Hate is loud, but I think you’ll learn it’s because it’s only a few people shouting, desperate to be heard. You might not ever be able to change their minds, but so long as you remember you’re not alone, you will overcome.”
I could go on and on about every positive and affirming message that this book gives, but I really should leave it for you to discover for yourself. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to be sucked in within a few pages by the charming, almost whimsical writing, and by the end, you’ll be holding it to your chest and crying out of pure happiness. (Seriously – I think my copy has tear stains.)
Reading The House in the Cerulean Sea feels like pure magic. It welcomes you in with open arms and says “You’re safe here.” Full of lovable characters, and overflowing with heart, this is easily a new favorite for me, and one that I’m going to be recommending for a long time. I suggest you pick it up for yourself and find out why.
“A home isn’t always the house we live in. It’s also the people we choose to surround ourselves with.”