Review of The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
This is charming, with quirky characters, but it felt like a middle-grade book to me.
Especially during Pandemic Times, one of the genres I find myself gravitating toward listening to is young adult fantasy. I think the pacing and the fantastical worlds lend themselves well to audiobook form. (And again, I really need to stop saying "books on tape" because I am not currently living in the 1980s.) Daniel Henning as the narrator is able to differentiate between many voices in T.J. Klune's book that require unique handling, and I loved listening to the story through his interpretation.
At the start of The House in the Cerulean Sea, Extremely Upper Management sends lonely, steady, pushed-around Linus, a case worker for magical children in orphanages, to a mysterious, small-scale home for children that seems like it's at the (beautiful) end of the earth.
Linus is expected to report back with details about what Arthur Parnassus, the mysterious master on site, is really up to with his unusual charges. But stolid Linus may be pushed past the limits of his beloved rules and regulations, because upon arrival, he finds out that the children are not only magical, but potentially dangerous: they include a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Plus there is something mysterious about both the caretakers of the children and island, like maybe something magical also!
The premise is excellent, and the book is charming. The characters are wonderfully quirky. There's extensive emphasis on being who you are and in accepting others, telling the truth and being kind, and in the fulfillment of actually forming the future you've wished for. Klune shows that we can be held back by fear of what we don't understand, or by a fear of either recognizing what we want or a fear of pursuing a need for our general happiness. (Am I too grumpy if I share that the repeated "you're perfect just the way you are" messages might have had more impact for me if they'd been shown at times rather than told to me so frequently?)
Now for the implausibility: There's repetitive (and after a time, for me, unconvincing) stated confusion about Linus's affection for and distraction by Arthur. Unbelievably wise people and creatures also have unlikely levels of great understanding of the big picture, as well as of Linus as a person and the different life he should be living. Linus ultimately shows himself to have depth and personality and affection, but Arthur's declarations about liking Linus just the way he is more so than anyone he's ever met--while Linus seems at that point to be proving himself an average rule follower without much imagination--feel premature and too convenient.
It felt like a middle-grade novel to me, but it's marketed as a book for adults. There's love, but it is chaste (lots of gazing into each other's eyes and touching faces); there's one use of the B-word (in a moment in which human--actually creature--rights are threatened); and the themes of acceptance and the clarity of their presentation feel appropriate for young readers. You can see much of the story coming, but it's satisfyingly heartwarming.
Showing characters sharing classic oldies music tastes with the Antichrist was one of my favorite parts.
What did you think?
I listed T.J. Klune's The House in the Cerulean Sea in a post last week called Three Wackily Different Books I'm Reading Right Now.
I kept fully imagining this to be a British story because of the tone and setup of the city and office for Linus, but Henning's narration didn't bear that out, and now that I've finished I can't find any reference to its being so. Must have been just me.