The House in the Cerulean Sea

Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea

Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates

Author: T.J. Klune

Pages: 400pp

Price: $26.99 (hc) / $13.99 (ebook)

Welcome to the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where you will find diligent caseworkers faithfully shuffling papers, stapling papers, and filing papers — when they aren’t checking on the various orphanages scattered around the country where magical children are, um, provided with a “safe” and “nurturing” environment away from the vulnerable human population. Diligent caseworkers such as Linus Baker, a pale forty year-old bachelor who sincerely believes that he is Doing the Right Thing. That is, until he is sent to a particular orphanage on the shores of a beautiful blue ocean, run by the equally particular Arthur Parnassus. There, Linus finds his neatly ordered world being torn down, brick by brick ….

T.J. Klune is one of those rare authors who will have me laughing so hard that it hurts on one page, and then the very next I will be ugly crying and reaching for an entire roll of paper towels. I was so intrigued by the description of The House in the Cerulean Sea that I actually pre-ordered a copy six months in advance, and I almost never pre-order a book.

How to describe The House in the Cerulean Sea? Think of it as The Umbrella Academy by way of Terry Pratchett, with more than a dash of Monty Python. It is sweet and wonderful and oh so human, but also filled with biting social commentary. It is darkly humorous, satirizing the monster of bureaucracy, even as it questions the human need to control and categorize absolutely everything. It celebrates our interconnectedness and our incredible gift for compassion, even while it waves a red flag in the face of every homophobe and religious zealot, asking them “Why? Why do you have to be so hateful when this Other standing in front of you is just another Being who deserves love and acceptance?”

Just to offer one example: among the children living under Arthur’s care is Chauncey. He is a jellyfish. Maybe. Or possibly a mutated squid. He is a blob of some sort with tentacles and eyestalks and everyone he has ever met in his short life has told him that he is a monster. Until he arrives on the island and Arthur tells Chauncey that he is not a monster and that he can be anything he wants; anything in the whole world. And you know what Chauncey wants to be? A bellhop. He wants to help people when they are tired and anxious and they just want to relax and enjoy a good night’s rest; the complete antithesis of the monster under the bed that he has been taught is his true nature.

Actually, all of the children will break your heart. And then amaze you with their resiliency and determination, and their compassion towards those who hate them.

I’ll leave the review there. I don’t want to spoil anyone else’s discovery of this wonderful book by revealing too much.

Just keep some tissues handy.

Highly recommended to fans of Klune’s other work, as well as fans of C.S.E. Cooney, K.D. Edwards, Jenna Glass, Theodora Goss, Alix Harrow, and N.K. Jemisin.

[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published poetry, short fiction, and novellas can be found there.]