The House in the Cerulean Sea
by TJ Klune
A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.
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.
Now that I’ve read The House in the Cerulean Sea I can’t believe it took me so long to read it, but I’m so glad this story was my first novel of 2021.
40-year-old Linus Baker has been working as a Case Worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth for many years and, though he leads a solitary and rather humdrum life, he takes pride in his work making sure that orphanages for magical, non-human children are taking good care of their charges. He never lets himself get attached to the children—until he’s sent to Marsyas Island Orphanage, run by a Mr. Arthur Parnassus, where six extraordinary, potentially dangerous children are living. There’s Talia the garden gnome; Chauncey the tentacle ‘monster’; Sal the were-Pomeranian; Theodore the wyvern; Phee the forest sprite; and Lucy, the son of Satan. Linus must live with them for a month, reporting back to DICOMY, and decide if the orphanage should stay open.
And DICOMY would prefer it if he didn’t fall in love with Arthur and his little family of misfits while he’s there.
The House in the Cerulean Sea is a big, warm, comforting hug wrapped up in a novel, and it’s one of the most hopeful fantasy novels I’ve read. If you’re looking for a book that will bring you shameless joy and fill your heart to the point where you think it might burst, then look no further than this one. It’s such a tender story and a love letter to found families.
As Arthur himself states, calling his house an orphanage makes no sense; no one is coming to adopt these children, as far as Arthur is concerned the children are his, and as such he is incredibly protective of them. Unfortunately he needs to be in a world where magical and non-human people are treated like monsters that need to be feared, to the point where some of the children believe it themselves. With Arthur, however, they’re given a chance at a childhood where they’re able to learn and play and express themselves without having to worry about being punished simply for existing. The orphanage might be where these children live, but Arthur is their home.
It would be so easy for this novel to be twee and so overly sweet it could cause cavities, but Klune writes these children so well and in such a way that it’s impossible not to fall in love with them. They all have their own strong personalities, and their own issues to work through, but at their heart they’re all children who are desperate to be loved and desperate for a place they can call home.
Linus and Arthur are also utterly lovely and it was so refreshing to read a romance blossoming between two adults in their forties, one of whom is a little overweight and whose hair is thinning. Linus isn’t a young Case Worker who’s fresh on the job and learning the truth behind some of the behaviour DICOMY’s strict rules are allowing, but a man who’s been trying to do his best for children for years and is finally able to discover the courage he’s needed to say what he really thinks when he falls in love with this little family, and having an older protagonist at the centre of this novel made the story all the more powerful for me. You don’t have to be 25 and classically handsome to change the world, and some of the smallest changes we make can make the biggest ripples.
This story reads like a Middle Grade novel from the point of view of the adults and it’s wonderful. I can’t recommend it enough.