Feel Good Fantasy: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune (book review)
GENRE: Adult Fantasy LENGTH: 396 pages
A caseworker (Linus) is sent to an orphanage for magical children on a distant island to investigate whether the children are a danger to themselves or others.
The story's protagonist is Linus. At the novel's start his life and worldview are very black and white. He is lonely and longs for something more. He is a very sympathetic protagonist to follow.
The other important characters are the inhabitants of the island. They include two caretakers and six children. Arthur is the master of the orphanage and he is a character who exudes love, support, and encouragement. Zoe, meanwhile, is an island sprite who is also fiercely protective of the children. I especially enjoyed her relationship with one of children, the forest sprite Phee, whom she mentors.
Outside of Phee the children include a sassy gnome named Talia, a button loving wyvern named Theodore (who despite not being able to speak is imbued with so much personality), an amorphous blob named Chauncey (who is so endearing), and a shy shifter named Sal. Finally, there is Lucy who is the son of the devil. Before you judge Lucy by his birth father, he is the character outside of Linus himself who is most complex. He is mischievous, yes, but deep down he's just a young boy who loves going on adventures with his friends like any other kid. He was my favorite character in the novel.
The novel is told in the third person perspective of Linus and the writing is very whimsical. Every review I've read described the experience of readings this book as feeling like a warm hug/heartwarming and I'm here to concur. The fantasy genre is not typically synonymous with terms like fluffy and feel-good, but Klune proved that's exactly what it can be.
This is a standalone novel and it progresses at a natural rate; not too rushed or too slow but just perfect. The novel is really about Linus' journey and what he learns as he becomes closer to the island's inhabitants. I liked how Klune executed Linus' 'transformation' so that his feelings gradually snuck up on him and the reader without us really being aware until it was too late to turn back.
This is a contemporary/urban fantasy meaning that it is set in the real world but features fantastical elements and creatures. The fantasy elements in this novel seem to exist with the sole purpose of telling a narrative/being a metaphor for found family and prejudice.
I will say, however, that Klune did make an effort to establish rules and incorporate history into the world. The magic has this sensation of vastness to it so that it feels like you've only seen the tip of the iceberg. If Klune ever writes another book featuring creatures from this version of our world I would devour it eagerly. The way the world building is done makes fantasy a lot more accessible to readers who don't typically read fantasy.
This is one of my favorite books I've ever read. I've always been a big believer that your family are those you choose and not just the people you're blood related to. Because of this, I was a sucker for this story of a lonely man finding where he belongs. There is no better time to read this novel than now as so many of us are in need of being uplifted. There is a romance element to this novel but it is very subdued and not a main focus of the story, so it's appropriate regardless of the reader's age. While this is an adult novel I feel the whimsical nature of the writing and the themes in the story can appeal to just about anyone.
FINAL RATING: 5 ⭐️