I picked this book up because a) I’ve been reading a lot of grimdark lately and needed something nice and wholesome to balance out the darkness and despair, but also b) I really want to read as many 2020 releases as possible over the next few weeks. I’d heard lovely, wholesome things about T. J. Klune’s THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA so it seemed like the perfect fit. It’s the loveliest story about Linus Baker, a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth who, following an unexpected meeting with Extremely Upper Management, is assigned to investigate an orphanage of magical children on sunny Marsyas Island.
I’ll be honest, this isn’t the kind of story I usually gravitate towards. I’m much more of a gritty, dark fantasy reader so at best I was expecting to find a charming little pallet cleanser that I would enjoy and move on from. But T. J. Klune really surprised me because I can’t tell you just how much I fell in love with the characters in this book. I’ll start with the children, because honestly they’re the stars of the show. When he arrives at the island Linus meets Talia, a gnome with a delightfully endearing macabre streak. She’s so funny, I feel like I just laughed and smiled every time she opened her mouth, even when she was threatening to brain Linus with a shovel and bury him in her garden. Chauncey was another firm favourite; he’s an unidentifiable green blob whose biggest dream in life is just to be a bell hop. Sal is a shy, quiet were-Pomeranian who loves to write and Theodore is a young wyvern with a hoard and a button obsession. There’s Phee the tree sprite and, finally, Lucy – the antichrist (but we don’t use that word around here).
Now I haven’t got a paternal bone in my body, which made it all the more surprising to me that I bonded so much with these little guys. Magical beings face a lot of mistrust in this world, from people who fear them and their abilities and it made me so sad at times to see how people treated the kids, but also made my heart so full that they found such a loving father figure in their guardian, Arthur Parnassus, and how much they bonded with each other and supported each other through their struggles. There are lots of memorable moments in this story that will stick with me for a long time, but I just want to talk about one notable scene that I adored. Sal’s poem
Arthur homeschools the children and often encourages them to read their creative work to the class. It’s difficult to provide enough context to explain why the poem Sal reads to the class is so beautiful (which is why you should read the book and cry into your pillow as your heart breaks into a thousand tiny pieces), but Sal has had a tough time. He’s been at the home on Marsyas Island for three months, and it’s the longest he’s stayed in one place for many years. He suffered abuse in previous homes and is quiet and reserved, scared to give too much of himself to anyone because he fears they’ll never be a permanent part of his life. When Arthur calls on him to read his poem to the rest of the children he’s reluctant. And yet they all encourage him so lovingly. Talia, with her rough exterior that’s simultaneously so open and loving; Lucy, the actual antichrist, with his constant monologuing about death and the end of the world; Theodore, a wyvern who can’t actually speak English, and yet conveys such genuine encouragement to Sal, who it is clear becomes one of his best friends over the course of the book. And the poem itself, with all this context, is genuinely one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. I dunno man, the whole thing is just beautiful.
A big part of the book is the slow burn romance that blossoms between Linus and Arthur and the secrets that are uncovered along the way. Now if there was any part of this story that I thought would absolutely not click with me, it was the romance. I’m just not a romance reader. And while it did take a little while for the relationship that forms between Linus and Arthur to crack my heartless exterior, I was honestly a blubbering mess by the end. If this romance was enough to crack me, a known monster with a stone heart, then I think it has the potential for all time favourite romances for anyone already a fan of that type of story.
This is a genuinely beautiful book that made me laugh out loud at times and cry into my cushion at others. I was not expecting to love it as much as I did and I’m certain The House In The Cerulean Sea will stick with me for a long time .
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