The House in the Cerulean Sea


T. J. Klune


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

July 19, 2021

he House in the Cerulean Sea is a message book disguised as a novel. It's not a good disguise, the message practically bludgeons the reader over the head. The message is that every child must loved and raised in a happy, nurturing environment, no matter how different that child may be. And who could argue with a message like that? There is little nuance here. All the magical people are wonderful, decent and lovable. All the non-magical people are despicable, mean and selfish - unless they are gay. The non-magical humans live in a joyless grey city where it rains CONSTANTLY. The magical people live on a sun-drenched island in the cerulean sea, where the weather is always perfect.

Linus Baker is a lonely, lifelong bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY). Baker is such a stickler for following orders that he reads and rereads the massive book of Rules and Regulations, even though he practically has it memorized. Baker dresses in a suit and tie every day, allowing himself only the tiniest pleasures (listening to golden oldies on his record player at home, wearing monogrammed pajamas). Baker is sent out to investigate orphanages where children possessing magical powers are sequestered. Baker never allows himself to be drawn into empathy - he maintains a professional impartiality, evaluating how each orphanage is operated. If he recommends that an orphanage be shut down, Baker does not allow himself to be concerned with the children who will be relocated.

Extremely Upper Management summons Baker to a top secret meeting. Because of his noted ability to keep a distance between himself and the orphanages he visits, Baker is given an assignment to evaluate a most unusual orphanage. He is given a ticket to Marsyas Island and travels out to meet this home, which houses six of the strangest children. Klune deliberately concocts a household of the strangest children he can imagine, just in case the reader misses the message that all children must raised in a loving environment, no exceptions! The six children are:

Talia, who is a gnome. Although Talia is female, she has a beard. Talia is over 100 years old, but because gnomes don't mature until age 250, Talia is still a child. How is this possible? How can someone live one hundred years and not achieve wisdom and experience? Wouldn't a species that required 250 years to grow up lose everyone in their childhood? Who could survive 250 years of making the mistakes and taking the risks like children? Talia is always digging in her garden, because that is what gnomes do.

Phee is a forest sprite. She can make trees and flowers bloom, and she always hangs out with Talia in the garden. I kept getting Talia and Phee mixed up.

Theodore is a young wyvern. I was confused by Theodore - isn't a wyvern a two-legged dragon? So Klune's message about giving every child a loving home also extends to the children of the animal kingdom?

Remember the green slime monster in the Dungeons and Dragons campaigns? Chauncey is a young green slime monster, except that he can extrude tentacles when he needs to. Somehow, a blob of slime is able to see, talk and wear hats. Chauncey aspires to be bellhop when he grows up, which I guess is meant to be endearing, but merely sounded ridiculous to me. But then, I am a non-magical, non-gay human, so therefore I must be despicable, mean and selfish.

I did like Sal. Sal appears to be a shy child, but actually he is a were-dog. When Sal gets upset or excited, he transforms into a small Pomeranian. Even my ruthless non-magical heart had a soft spot for Sal.

If Klune had written his novel with just those five children, perhaps the MESSAGE wouldn't have been so loud, but Klune really wants to emphasize that every child must be raised in a loving environment, no matter how difficult or dangerous the child is. So the sixth child at the magical orphanage is Lucifer, the anti-Christ. He is affectionately called Lucy, and he is just a six year old child - what could go wrong? Oh yeah, Lucy could destroy the entire planet in a moment of rage or despair. And who hasn't had a moment when a fierce rage momentarily overcomes reason? Some jerk cuts you off; your girlfriends dumps you for someone else; you suffer from a perceived injustice - what if in those moments, you could destroy the entire world? Or at least condemn the perceived transgressor to an eternity of hellfire and damnation? Yes - despite Klune's clumsy attempts to make the anti-Christ worthy of our love, Lucy is simply too dangerous to allow to exist. The lives of 8 billion humans are at risk of Lucy's moods. Of course, Lucy complains about spiders in his brain - giving him bad thoughts. When Lucy has nightmares, the surrounding environs shake and churn - Baker awakens one night to find that his bed is levitating. But even when he is in his cheerful lovable youth mode, Lucy delights in making jokes about killing and terror. But Lucy is just a six year old - he's just kidding! Isn't he adorable? What could possibly go wrong?

The plot to The House in the Cerulean Sea doesn't make sense. Why does Extremely Upper Management send Baker to investigate Arthur Parnassus' home - if they wanted to shut the place down, why not send their least competent investigator who would certainly recommend that it be closed. But what would dispersing these unusual magical children accomplish? Closing the place makes no sense - it apparently receives no financing, and it keeps these child-monsters safe and removed from society.

How do the evil villagers know that Lucy is the anti-Christ? That is top secret information that is apparently known to everyone in the village.

Ms. Chapelwhite is a forest sprite - so how is it that she can manipulate the ocean to create a bridge made of salt? Shouldn't she have grown a canoe from a tree, or something like that?