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’ll start this review by saying first that a two star book means I thought it was “okay.” This book is a very easy, feel good read and I completely understand why that was enough for many readers during the trying times of 2020. If this book had been marketed towards middle-grade readers, I would have given it three stars and been far more forgiving with it. However, since it is supposed to be adult fantasy the wooden dialogue, bare minimum plot, and overly convenient writing have to be addressed.
First, the dialogue is easily the biggest hurdle to be overcome in this book. Once we get to the island, the reader can’t go more than a handful of pages without having one of the characters monologue about tolerance and kindness. In fact, the bare minimum of plot is only there to shuffle the main character from “leaning moment” to “learning moment.” Like an after school special, the characters seemed incapable of talking about anything other than 1) prejudice, 2) kindness, 3) Their Quirk. Whatever Quirk the characters were introduced with had to be mentioned every time they were “on screen” to, I assume, ensure the reader didn’t forget for a second that the character is a gnome or the antichrist.
Second, there is literally no reason for Lucy to be the antichrist beyond taking the “nature vs nurture” argument to its limit. Lucy could have been literally any kind of creature and the book would have been exactly the same. There is a big reveal near the end of the book and it also serves no other purpose than to be another “light in the darkness” type metaphor. Again, if this book was written for middle grade this would all be fine. However, for adult readers, the repetitive lessons just made every true thing the characters were saying feel trite by the end of the book. It did not help that all of the characters are either Good or Bad and there is no gray area. Linus himself is a little bit neutral at best. His “growth” is supposed to be discovering that he is actually a Good person because he figures out his Real Home. But he was an okay person the whole time, just kind of introverted. There were some platitude actions at the end signifying change, but it was unfortunately really all background details for the happy love ending.
Which brings me to my last point. The love story did not make a whole lot of sense and felt pretty forced. Arthur and Linus only know each other for three weeks (without really spending any time getting to know each other away from the kids) before there is “head over heels in love” going on and everyone gets pretty upset that Linus is just going back to his own home after staying there for a month.
“You’re too precious to put into words. I think … it’s like one of Theodore’s buttons. If you asked him why he cared about them so, he would tell you it’s because they exist at all.” and “You’re just so…You!” were things Arthur was constantly going around saying to Linus, a man who is investigating his house and whom he barely knows, to the point that in the last third of book I was just starting to find it creepy.
I’m sure I sound like a bit of a grump at this point about this “feel good darling” of a book, but there it is. I was able to read through the book pretty quickly and the characters were distinct so I would absolutely recommend this one for middle grade readers and for adults who want a soft read.