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book review: the house in the cerulean sea

Book Cover

Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea

Series: Stand Alone

Genre: LGBTQ Fantasy

Rating: ★★/5

Linus Baker, a forty-year-old government employee at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, spends his days inspecting orphanages (built especially for magical kids) and listening to old records with his cat, Calliope in his tiny house. He works eight to six, always forgets to carry an umbrella, and never, ever goes against the government-issued tome – the book of Rules and Regulations. One day he is summoned by his higher-ups only to be assigned a highly classified job of inspecting the orphanage on the island of Marsyas.

And so we follow this incredibly dull man as he journeys to this island and stays there for one month, meets six magical kids, writes tedious reports on them, and eventually falls in love with the Master of the orphanage.

It’s not as bad as I make it sound but my first and foremost complaint is that this story was unnecessarily slow at times, dragging some moments with what felt like the sole intention of extending these ‘heartwarming’ feels but it only ended up being annoying. TJ Klune however, is an incredibly talented writer and I really appreciated the clever use of symbolism, vivid descriptions, the metaphors, and he certainly does have a way with words which is all the more endearing because it is incredibly easy to follow and flows very smoothly.

The main character, however, was the dullest of the lot with zero personality. At first, he came across as this government-installed machine, and even if the author intended it for him to be such, it felt unreal for a person to lack any opinion whatsoever. And there were instances it felt so shallow and superficial because he just couldn’t pick up on what people were trying to say. I mean it would have made sense for a younger character to behave such, but he is forty for god sake.

However, it was an absolute delight meeting the six kids and the other characters because they were well-crafted, fleshed out, memorable, and very very real.

So, why did I not like it?

The story is mainly about how all kids are the same and that their differences don’t make them something to be feared. Having magical abilities was frowned upon in this world. There were different divisions of the government, appointed to deal with magical kids as well as adults. I am not trying to bore you with world-building right now. I am trying to provide a context as to why this book was problematic.

There was very little information about the children’s backstories. Maybe just a line or two and we didn’t really get an insight into their traumas or what happened before they ended up at the orphanage. I was most disappointed when the story ended with Linus Baker sending petitions to the government and living happily ever after with Arthur at the orphanage. I mean I love happy endings, but this was uncalled for honestly.

I wish this book was more powerful and hard-hitting, especially because this was inspired by Canada’s Sixties Scoop. It was during the 50’s when indigenous kids were taken from their families and placed into government-sanctioned schools and other facilities. And the entire system of this book was totally based on this.

To the author, if you’re going to write about something inspired by horrific events then please don’t romanticize it with talks of love and kindness. Make it raw. Let the readers feel their trauma. Even if it’s fantasy that you are writing, at least do justice to people’s experiences and not sugarcoat it.

Towards the very end, it seemed that Linus Baker had suddenly broken out of his bubble and he confronted his superiors, and to put it in simple words, he bad-mouthed them and insulted them. And three weeks later, they sent a confirmation that the orphanage was safe and it wouldn’t be shut down.

Everybody get your champagne, pop some bottles — it’s celebration time. I mean, honestly speaking that is not how it works EVEN IN FANTASY. Those people are the heads of the entire department with incredible money, status, and power. They control not only your life but the funds that keep the orphanages going. Why on earth would they listen to you when you are just a teensy caseworker?

What I am trying to say here is that there wasn’t a lot of struggle or fight to bring about change. There wasn’t a lot of discussion about the discrimination that magical adults faced, day in and day out. Everything was because ‘people feared the unknown.’ At its roots, this was discrimination, and it doesn’t happen in the real world because people fear the other race or some shit. And okay, let’s say for a moment that this book was solely focused on the kids part — how is that the moment a kid found a ‘home’ aka ‘an orphanage’ they immediately became happy? What about their feelings? Their culture? Their own tribe?

This was just a massive letdown.

Besides that, the book had some super cringey lines which, let me tell you, were very uncreative and unoriginal. And I am not quite sure if this counts, but it felt very preach-y? It gave off a very heavy self-help-book vibe. At times there were scenes with truly good lines, but it just felt too forced and how do I explain this? It was almost like the author had these morals/lines that he wanted to include in the story, so he forcefully made up the scenes just for the sake of it. There.

Not gonna lie, this book with its found family trope at the core of it, did make me tear up quite a few times, but it’s bound to be because it’s about children in orphanages. If you have a heart, when you read about kids being afraid of not having a home and just looking out for each other, combined with great writing it is inevitable for your heart to feel all the feels.

And that is exactly what the author intends, and that doesn’t necessarily make it a good book.

*The book’s got a cool cover though. So, at least kudos to the cover artist.*

Now, that, my dear friends was one hell of a rambly roast-y post. I had a great time writing this and I know that many people love this book. But this is just how I feel it. And if you haven’t guessed it already, I highly don’t recommend this book. If you want to read heartwarming books, then please go dig up Fredrick Backman, Casey McQuiston, Jane Austen, Khaled Hosseini, or even John Green.

Release Date: March 17th, 2020

Publisher: Tor Books

Know more: Goodreads

I would love to know what books you have been reading. Your thoughts on reading this book? Do you plan to read it? And just curious, but hey, what’s your favorite color?

And a happy children’s day to you. I hope you always treasure the child in you and not give in to the grumbly adult and lose all imagination like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (author of the little prince) likes to put it.

Have a great day!

22 thoughts on “book review: the house in the cerulean sea

  1. I love your review. It is so refreshing to see a negative review of this popular book. I also dislike when scenes in books feel “forced” and I always appreciate honesty when a book hints at trauma and dislike sugar-coating (even, as you say, it is fantasy we are talking about).


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