***Trigger warnings: Mentions of child abuse, child neglect, bullying and anxiety. More details on rep detailed here ***
SFF as a whole doesn’t have many stories that I myself would call uplifting. Of course they are there to be sought out! Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series is often referred to as “hope punk’ for the optimistic notes they have and similar comfort is found in books like Katherine Addison’s fantastic The Goblin Emperor. But it’s still not as common. And during a pandemic, what if you want another to add to those I mentioned, if you have read them already? The House in the Cerulean Sea is just that.
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.
I don’t often ugly cry at books anymore. I often shed a tear or tear up with joy (see mentioned The Goblin Emperor) but I think I can name books that made me sob. This one is added to the list. I truly didn’t expect that a tale about a man unhappy in his job working what is essentially the magical equivalent of Tusla would make such an emotional impact on me. What T.J Klune has created is a story of hope, joy in life and a real reminder of how many who decry “save the children” aren’t always those with their best interests at heart.
We follow the story of Linus Baker, a long term case worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth with very little else to his life minus his music, his flowers and his cat Calliope. So I wasn’t the fondest of Linus at first. In fact I found him to be quite wearying at the start. Linus is endlessly bullied in his work environment, always undermined by his fellow workers who really you would hope would have his back in some way. His neighbour is nosy, blunt and equally critical of him as his work colleagues. Then I remembered I was in a similar situation once upon a time and that’s likely what made me weary and promptly found my attitude toward him changing.
I think it’s safe to say this book is equal parts plot and character driven story. There is a lot of focus on setting up the world as a whole. The world itself is much like our own, with the exception that there are magical youth and people in society. Which is terrible, frankly. It’s nothing new to showcase people’s ingrained prejudice against children in a book, there are even bound to be some who do this on a greater level on discussions of race for example. But it’s just how it’s set up here that you’re always aware of this supposed danger of magical youth. Signs Linus see’s signs all the time reminding everyone to “See something? Say something”. The forceful registration of anyone magical so they can be monitored for people’s “safety”. It breeds hate, fear and in the reader hopefully, anger.
There is at the heart of this, a love story. Not just between Linus and the caretaker, Arthur Parnassus. That’s a romantic love story. There is so much love in the children on Marsayas. There is even more in Linus himself just needing to be given in turn. Familial love, the love of friends, the love of doing a job right. The story explores this to such an expert degree and it’s honestly the wholesome boost I needed.
Apologies this wasn’t a very cohesive review. I genuinely adored this book and am only more annoyed I didn’t get to it sooner. This may not be for everyone since it is a very sweet, wholesome book but if you’re looking to try it out, I would recommend. Thanks for checking in everyone! Happy reading!