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.
Sometimes the hardest reviews to write are the ones for books we love the most. How am I supposed to write about The House in the Cerulean Sea without simply shaking the imagined book in your face and screaming, “READ IT!”
Book shaking aside, I adored this fantasy novel about a world of rules and regulations that suppresses magical beings “for their own good” while maintaining a status quo of normalcy and “safety.” So many finger quotes! Linus is a man who works as a caseworker to ensure that orphanages for magical children are run properly. He genuinely cares about the safety of the kids, but he fails to question the system in which he works to determine if his actions actually help the children in the long run. After all, he is fond of safety and security and routine.
It isn’t until Linus is thrust out of his bubble and assigned a month-long work assignment at an orphanage by the ocean that his perspective broadens and his heart expands. And whose heart wouldn’t?? This orphanage is home to some of the cutest lil creatures in the whole world – there’s the actual Antichrist, who enjoys both threatening visitors and singing in the kitchen. There’s Theodore, a wyvern who collects buttons and stole my heart. There are also tentacled beings who dream of being a bellhop when they grow up, and were-Pomeranian who has been shuffled from orphanage to orphanage, a female gnome with a proclivity for threatening people with her garden tools, and a forest sprite who didn’t get enough page time. I am amazed at Klune’s ability to write devilish children who are mischievous and loveable and scared.
For a book that is centred around a pretty cute plot (stodgy man learns to love children), it has some pretty salient messages about cultural change. It isn’t enough for Linus to change his opinion – he must take his new perspective to the beachside village that fears the children as well as to his workplace, where he must defend the existence of the orphanage to the authority figures who once made him quake with fear. It isn’t enough to change ourselves; we must do our part to change the system, if we can.
What Makes This Book Queer?
Most obviously, there is a gay love story! Linus is an out gay man who is annoyed at how attractive he finds the man who runs the orphanage. It isn’t much of a spoiler to say their attraction to each other plays a significant part of the story, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how quietly revolutionary it felt to tell a story about young children watching and celebrating two adult men fall in love.
But more than the love story between two men, the whole plot is a queer analogy. For most of history, queer folx were pushed to the margins (if they were allowed to exist at all) , out of sight of those who might be made uncomfortable by them. This was ostensibly for their safety, whether that meant the safety of their eternal souls or their physical safety (“Don’t kiss in public, someone might attack you” rather than “Don’t attack people for showing affection in public”). Change occurs when people allow themselves to be in a relationship with those who are queer/magical. It takes time to get past the hardened exterior of those who have been shunned by society, but if you take the time, you might be surprised to find a big ol’ softie underneath. That’s what Linus learned, and I hope the readers of his story learn the same.
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