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.
I read The House in the Cerulean Sea twice. In the same year. That should give you a pretty good indication of just how much I liked it. When I first started this book I was with my sister (hi Ariana) getting her car serviced, and while we waited we decided to take it in turns to read aloud to each other. I was immediately struck by TJ Klune’s effortlessly charming writing style, which really brought the world and characters he created to life. The novel starts with the words “Oh dear”, which are also the very first words spoken by the novel’s protagonist, Linus Baker. When I read this, immediately an image started to take shape in my mind of a sweaty, red-faced man, with a crease forming between his eyebrows. For an author to make such an impression with just two words is just…wow.
For me, the characters were the heart of The House in the Cerulean Sea. Mr. Baker quickly became my favourite. He’s endearing and caring, sharp-witted but also a bit awkward and uncoordinated. In short, he is perfectly imperfect – he knows who he is and who he isn’t. It was nice to see him develop and blossom, especially as a result of his interactions with Arthur, the master of the orphanage, and the children at Marsyas Island, who each have their own unique and lovable qualities.
“I’m just me. I don’t know how to be anyone but who I already am…It’s not much, but I do the best I can with what I have.”
In the alternate world that TJ Klune has created, society is divided into two groups: the magical and non-magical. The magical community is largely treated with fear and prejudice by the rest of society, especially the six children of Marsyas orphanage who possess abilities unlike anyone has ever seen before. This causes many in the nearby village to fear them – but not everyone treats them this way, and throughout the novel there is an overwhelming message of hope that change can happen. I love the emphasis that the author puts on the importance of treating people with kindness and fairness, no matter their background or appearance.
“Change often starts with the smallest of whispers. Like-minded people building it up to a roar.”
The last thing I want to touch on before I wrap up this review is the music. Linus listens to old records and interspersed throughout the text are some of the lyrics from his favourite records. I love this quirky little feature, and on my second read-through I made a playlist with all the songs mentioned. I think they perfectly capture the ethos of The House in the Cerulean Sea, and if you do decide to pick this book up you can stick this playlist on while you’re reading!
This is a wonderful book and I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for that next uplifting, feel-good read. And, if you’ve read The House in the Cerulean Sea already, why not let us know how you found it in the comments below? We’d love to hear from you…
Genre: fantasy fiction
Narration style: third person
Format read: paperback
Content Warnings: child abuse (mentioned)