House in the Cerulean Sea

by TJ Klune

Hardcover, 2020

Call number




Tor (2020), Edition: Reprint, 416 pages


Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he's given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they're likely to bring about the end of days.But the children aren't the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place - and realizing that family is yours.… (more)

Media reviews

Culturess Daily
If ever there was an author to watch out for, [Klune] is definitely that author.
7 more
Library Journal
A delightful tale about chosen families, and how to celebrate differences.
Fantasy & Science Fiction
A beautiful little gem of both irony and, yes, kindness.
Shelf Awareness
This inclusive fantasy is quite possibly the greatest feel-good story ever to involve the Antichrist.... The House in the Cerulean Sea will delight fans of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series and any reader looking for a burst of humor and hope.
This is a sweet narrative about the value of asking questions and the benefits of giving people (especially children) a chance to be safe, protected, and themselves, regardless of what assumptions one might glean from, say, reading their case file.
Lambda Literary Award-winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus... fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up. A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Quirk and charm give way to a serious exploration of the dangers of complacency in this delightful, thought-provoking Orwellian fantasy from Klune.... This tale of found family is hopeful to its core. Readers will revel in Klune’s wit and ingenuity.
The Washington Post
It’s a witty, wholesome fantasy that’s likely to cause heart-swelling.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ablachly
The House in the Cerulean Sea follows a bureaucratic caseworker who’s assigned to investigate an orphanage full of magical children, including sure, young Lucy the Antichrist, but also a were-pomeranian and an endearing blob that dreams of being a bellhop. (It turns out I love nothing like I love
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an earnest child with bellhop dreams? It’s good to learn new things about yourself. Like that I would die for Chauncey.)

This book has heart. It is charming and delightful and queer and kind and I want to clutch it to my chest and keep it safe forever.
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LibraryThing member ahef1963
The House in the Cerulean Sea is one of the best books I've ever listened to/read. It's one of those books where you keep taking "five minute breaks" to listen a little more, and end up listening for an hour.

The story is of Linus Baker, who investigates conditions at state-run orphanages. He's very
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good at his job, very thorough and objective, and is a grey sort of person in a grey sort of city. That is, until the day that he goes for a month's visit to an orphanage set on an island in the Cerulean Sea - it changes him, and it changes everyone there.

The narrator did voices so well. The voice of Chauncey, one of the wards on the island, was just hilarious.

I loved the book for its inclusivity, for its wearing down of the objectivity of Linus Baker, for its LGBTQ background. I loved the characters, their warmth, their ability to love. I loved the writing and the narration and the story and.....everything. It was perfect.
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune is one of the most charming stories I have ever read, let alone read in 2020. The simple story of a by-the-book caseworker sent to observe and assess the mysterious Marsyas Orphanage is heartwarming and hopeful. After the crappy year that is 2020, it is
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the best story to end the year and guide you into 2020.

It is simply impossible not to fall in love with each one of the orphans or with Linus as everything at the orphanage challenges his worldview. The characters, while mostly consisting of mythical creatures, are delightful. My particular favorites are Talia, with her penchant for mumbling threats under her breath, and Theodore, with his utter delight at receiving a button. The children’s innocence and vulnerability are refreshing and are what lend the story its heart.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is a hopeful story, something we all need as we enter 2021. With many of us having spent the majority of the year at home, its reminder to take the time to see and appreciate all the wonder that exists around us is essential as the walls of our dwellings become less comforting and more constraining every day. Plus, Linus reminds us to fight against injustice because even one whisper can grow into a roar. Again, with everything that happened this year, we need this reminder that our efforts can make a difference, no matter how small they are.

I will be adding The House in the Cerulean Sea to my best reads of 2020 list. Plus, I would love to obtain a permanent copy because it is the type of novel that deserves multiple readings. If you are looking for an excellent book to finish the year or a fantastic first novel for 2021, look no further than The House in the Cerulean Sea.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
It’s Stranger than Fiction meets Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. The story is charming. It’s full of magic, but even if you strip that away, it’s an example of what can happen to children in foster care or orphanages. With that in mind it packs an added punch. The kids blossom
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with attention and shrink from abuse. It has an overall message of the damage prejudice can do.
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LibraryThing member samnreader
This is a book about love.

There's not much else that needs to be said.

It's exactly what I needed, and I'm happy to return it to the library so the next waitlisted person can burn with joy.
LibraryThing member MillieHennessy
This is just a precious, soft, low-key gay romance set at a home for magical youth. I really never use this term, but if Linus and Arthur aren't cinnamon rolls, then I don't know who is. I was absolutely enamored with the entirety of this novel. I loved getting to know Linus and watch him develop
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as he, in turn, gets to know Arthur and the children he cares for. I'm a big fan of the misfits with powers trope, but I'm used to them being full of action and high drama. This was so different from anything I've read, and wonderfully so! If you need a quietly magical, queer, adventure that feels like it really could happen, then I can't recommend this highly enough!
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LibraryThing member Slevyr26
4.5 stars rounded up for GR because WE LOVE REPRESENTATION! The only thing I could do without was the way a life lesson had to be fit into nearly every sentence uttered by child or adult alike. A little too on the nose, over and over again. But the ending had me just gleeful at the cuteness so I
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have to give this 5 stars.

Unrelated to my review, but I am so confused as to why this is marketed as adult fiction? From the off, it very clearly isn't. At best, it's young adult. However, to me it reads more like middle grade. Probably could avoid some of the unnecessary and ridiculous *cough* I mean, uninformed reviews with low ratings on here if the book is read by the readers it is intended for AND/OR those who read it recognize that this is a book for children, about children.
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LibraryThing member MickyFine
Linus Baker is a caseworker for the Department In Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY) where he visits government-run orphanages for magical children and makes recommendations for continuance or closure based on the conditions he sees. He is astounded when Extremely Upper Management meets with him and
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sends him on a month-long assignment to the classified Marsyas Orphanage to observe the highly unusual children in residence and their equally unusual master, Arthur Parnassus. Linus's many years of experience have not prepared him for the children nor Arthur but his month on the island may be exactly what he needs.

This fantasy novel is a lovely and charming LGBTQ tale that is extraordinarily inclusive. Linus is a sweet middle-aged man whose very ordinariness makes him the perfect protagonist for the reader to take in this world through. Largely a gentle narrative where none of the conflict seems unsurmountable, the book is easy to dip in and out of. I can see why readers adore this one but admit that for me it fell somewhere between fine and good on my personal rating scale. I'm not sure how much of that is me rebelling against the hype for it (the book has a blurb declaring it "near perfect" on the cover) and how much of it is my current mood. Don't let my lower level of enthusiasm deter you though - I'm hopeful this book finds many, many readers.
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LibraryThing member foggidawn
Linus Baker lives in a gray, rainy city, doing a dull, demanding job. He's a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, and he believes in the work he does, but also strives to maintain a professional distance from the children he encounters in the course of his work. This becomes
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more difficult when he is sent on a special assignment to a very unusual orphanage, where he meets children with powers more varied and rare than any he has ever seen -- and where he meets the enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, head of the orphanage. What secrets are hidden there, in the house on the island? Why was Linus sent to observe and report on it? And what will become of the people there when his report is done?

Ahhhh, this book is so lovely! Just heartwarming. It has fantastic characters, a delightful setting, good pacing, moments of delicious humor, and it elicits all manner of happy feels. It is just the sort of book that we all need right now. I thought the ending was maybe a little too perfect, but that's really the only criticism I can level at it, and is that even really a criticism? I can see this book becoming a favorite comfort read for me.
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LibraryThing member SusanKrzywicki
Heart-warming and fun. This book is going to be one I read again when I need to feel good about the best side of humanity.
LibraryThing member elenaj
This book is a delight through and through. Perfect found family, lovely world-building in a just-left-of-reality kind of way. Charming oddball characters, queer romance, and engaging storytelling. Warnings for non-graphic mistreatment of children - (mild spoilers behind the cut) the mistreatment
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is generally in the past rather than the present of the story. But it's portrayed in a very hurt/comfort sort of way, where what we get to see is the comfort side, good parenting to balance out the bad past.

Also - I adore that we get to see fat characters thrive and find love without needing to become thin. The main character does have a lot of negative self-talk about his size, but the overall narrative undermines rather than supports his internalized fatphobia.

I didn't know what to expect from this book - the title made me think it might be a bit twee or melodramatic, but it's not either. It's sweet and funny, and manages to have a solid heartwarming story and a clear message without taking itself too seriously. Highly recommended.

I received an ARC in return for an honest review of the book.
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LibraryThing member Iudita
This is a purely wonderful story with the most lovable group of characters.
LibraryThing member kimkimkim
This is the most wonderful, phantasmagorical, special, fantastic book that I have read in forever.

It taught me so many things, reinforced notions I had left by the wayside. It shone a light on the virtue of bravery and reminds us that in the face of adversity it separates the strong from the weak.
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It speaks to the reason for all things, but we should always wonder if it is the right reason. How about acknowledging that when someone is not what you expected it really means that you had already attributed things that may not constitute the being.

I chuckled, chortled, laughed, snickered, shook my head, wept, cried, raged at the moon and stars.

When someone says” Leave, we don’t want you here – the only appropriate answer is: “No Thank You!”

Oh yes, this was a most amazing book.
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LibraryThing member BethYacoub
I'm going to keep this short because I don't want to spoil even the tiniest of things. BUT this book is something I didn't realize I desperately needed until I was neck deep, wading through its depths. I want to bottle these emotions so I can take them out on gloomy days and reminisce about the
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happiness and sense of completion this book has gifted me. I have heard nothing but praise for The House In The Cerulean Sea therefore, I was leary going into this read. I went in a Skeptic and came out an Apostle. As I sat in a doctor's waiting room with this in hand, within the matter of 15 minutes I had cried and then I laughed... all out loud... sniffling wildly in the middle of a pandemic, garnering looks of suspicion and outright disgust. I must have looked like a crazy person BUT I didn't care... I had found an ereader sized gem and I am going to treasure it Smeagol style for all time... also, wearing a mask helped hide most of the evidence.

The characters are the stars of this show and I truly fell in love over and over again... deeper in love with each passing page. Each character will forever own a piece of my heart but Lucy... Lucy has the lion's... errr Devil's share. I love him to tiny little perfectly jagged little pieces of pure Love.

I'll end things here but just so you know:

- characters--> AMAZING
- world building--> lush and evocative and tangible
- writing--> raw and alluring and it completely ensnared me heart and soul.
- pacing--> a tad slow to start but when things got rolling and I started understanding what was going on more, it swept me away.

I am off to (reverentially) place this where it belongs... in my Favorites folder.

~ Enjoy
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LibraryThing member twinkley
I pretty much loved everything about this book: the characters, the story, the humor, and the feels. I did not want it to be over. I am so glad that I bought this instead of waiting forever for a library copy. Besides the characters and the story, I thought it also had a beautiful message about
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love, hope, and seeing and accepting people as they are.
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LibraryThing member scarylullabies
An enjoyable read, but I kinda think it wasn't for me. It's a little ham-fisted and I think the author transposed the specific type of soulessness that is endemic to corporate environments onto government offices, (I've worked in both, and although government work can certainly be soulless if you
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let it, it is a very different flavor of beige and presents itself very differently than it does in a corporate setting) and since this book deals so prominently with the bureaucracy of child welfare, it broke my suspension of disbelief at times. But I don't think that's a problem most folks will have. And even if it is, the rest of the book makes up for it. Each of the kids is an individual person and has their own unique voice, which is hard to find in books for grown-ups. Chauncey alone was adorable enough to make up for any other difficulties I had. And the scene in the records shop had me wheezing with delight. A fun summer read over all.
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LibraryThing member VioletBramble
So I just said that We Ride Upon Sticks may be my favorite book so far this year. I may have to change that. This book was equally fun, plus the story is completely charming.
Linus Baker is a caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He visits orphanages and homes run by the
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department to make sure that the children are safe and cared for appropriately. He gets sent to a beautiful tropical island to check out a house with six children that is in the charge of Arthur Parnassus. The six children are a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, a shape shifter, a blob with eyes, and Lucifer, the Antichrist. I don't want to give anything away so I won't write any more.
A lovely story about family. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member sdramsey
I loved this sweet, funny, and endearing book!
LibraryThing member krau0098
Series Info/Source: This is a stand alone book that I borrowed from the library.

Story (5/5): I had very high expectations coming into this book and they were definitely met. I read this whole book in two sittings and loved it. It is just a sweet and feel good story with a lot of quirky characters
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with strange powers, in an even stranger situation. It's about accepting people for who they are (even if they do have tentacles), doing the right thing, and finding a place you can call home. It is a story that is beautifully written and beautifully put together.

Characters (5/5): The characters are what make this book. Linus is such a good representation for what a lot of humanity is; accepting, hardworking, and trying to make it day to day. His transformation throughout the story is incredibly inspiring. Then of course there are Arthur and the children; they all have a lot of depth and end up being very different from how they are initially represented.

Setting (5/5): This book alternates between two settings; Linus’s home and the house on the island by the sea. Both are night and day to each other and make for a beautiful contrast. The description of both settings make them really come alive and I love how they contrast and play off each other. The broader alternate world where magic exists is also well done.

Writing Style (5/5): This is incredibly well written and has a very tongue in cheek tone to it at times (especially in the beginning) that makes it a lot of fun to read. I loved the way the story was put together and was completely engaged in it from page one. There is a lot of humor in here, a lot of character growth, an excellent plot and a fun alternate world. This story has huge impact, and I will think about it a lot. It was definitely a tear-jerker in a number of places, as well as making me laugh out loud in other places. It was a very fun one to read during the holiday season because of the themes are friendship and family (of course with some anti-christ, tentacles, and violent shoveling involved).

My Summary (5/5): Overall I loved this and it immediately made me go and check out what other books Klune has written. It ends up, I have another book from Klune on my shelf to read “The Lightning-Struck Heart” and I didn’t even realize it. I am doubly excited to read that book now. I would recommend this to those who enjoy quirky, fun, yet heartfelt, stories about those with unique powers who are just trying to make a living for themselves.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
The truth is, I almost didn't read this book--and yet, in the end, I'm so glad I did. So, let me back up.

The blurbs for this one kept scaring me off. I must have gotten pointed toward it, or come across it on my own, a dozen times--and then, each time, I got scared off from reading it. Why? Because
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the blurbs make it sound like a slightly magical Hallmark movie, albeit one with a gay couple at its center. And I'm not the Hallmark movie type. I love fantasy, but I tend to go for darker reads. Give me the choice between a horror novel and a romance, I'll take the horror novel. Give me the choice between a love story set against a war and a love story set in a magical wonderland, and I'll take the one set against the war. Call something 'feel good' (as more than one blurb here does), describe it as 'an enchanting love story' (as this book's back cover does), or talk about a found family or lessons learned in the pages of a book... well, generally speaking, you'll have done a great job of scaring me off. Chances are, anything someone is describing as 'nice' and 'sweet' and 'feel-good' isn't anything that's really going to draw me in. I'm happy for those who enjoy it, but it's not my cup of tea.

And then my book club chose this book to read for June, so I finally--albeit with a slightly raised eyebrow and a wince--picked up the book.

And I loved it.

Admittedly, I had a hard time getting into it--in the beginning, it felt a bit too much like a fairy tale for adults, or a sweet romance tied up in a fantasy bow to draw in spec fiction readers. But once Linus Baker and his cat got to their island destination and I got introduced to the fantastical inhabitants the book would center around... well, the book had me.

Klune's writing is fantastic, and he does a marvelous job of blending humor with magic, and real-world concerns with fantastical elements. There were also moments here that took me back to my favorite Disney musicals from the 1960s/1970s--the original Doctor DoLittle with Rex Harrison, the original Peter's Dragon, The Happiest Millionaire, etc.--in the way the book tackled the most serious topics imaginable while still holding onto the characters who pulled us into the work, and all of their innocence and magic and goodness. When it came to the serious stuff, there was no sugar-coating, and that's what I always fear with new family movies or when something is described as 'sweet' or 'feel-good'.

So, would I recommend this, even to those who go in for darker reads? Absolutely. Ignore the blurbs, and dive right in. I look forward to picking up more of Klune's work from here on out.
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LibraryThing member TheDivineOomba
This a wonderful book, it has an interesting story, an interesting world (I'll come back to this), and a message that is written as PART of the story. The love story is cute as well.

The story takes place in country that isn't mentioned by name, but its very weird mix of United States and British
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culture. The main character, Linus, had lived his life not thinking about what he does - he really wants whats best for the children, and as a caseworker for gov't who works with orphanages for magical children, he does his best, when he gets sent to evaluate a super secret orphanage on an island, he finds himself changing as he gets involved with lives of the children and caretaker on the island.

Where the story shines is the interactions between Linus and the children, Mr. Klune writes incredible characters. This is a gentle story, with a gentle message. That goes for the caretaker, Arthur, and Linus. Both characters will always put their responsibilities first, especially in the interest of the children.

The other message, prejudice can be changed, but the change starts small, is a good message. I also liked that there problems are solved by communication, not violence.

And last thing, the world doesn't make a whole lot sense. But the author knows this, and emphasized the absurdity by how the Department in Charge of Magical Youth works - its incredibly bureaucratic, to the point absurdity.
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LibraryThing member janismack
I was not able to finish this book because I just couldn’t get interested in the characters. I usually like YA books and get into them quickly but this one just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t give it a rating because I only read 125 pages and didn’t feel like continuing.
LibraryThing member Tip44
That was awesome. Rather like a Lemony Snicket for adults. The book also reminded me of Nina Kiriki Hoffman's books.
LibraryThing member ChelleBearss
All. The. Feels! I saw so many recommendations for this book and often that would actually turn me off buying a book as usually I end up disliking the really hyped up books. The blurb though really sounded like something I’d love so I bought it. So happy that I did!
LibraryThing member DebbyeC
This book was everything I needed right now! What an utterly charming and adorable story! I fell in love with the sweet children and I rooted for Linus the entire book. This is absolutely in my top reads for 2020!


Audie Award (Finalist — Fantasy — 2021)
Mythopoeic Awards (Finalist — Adult Literature — 2021)
Alex Award (2021)
Nutmeg Book Award (Nominee — High School — 2023)
RUSA CODES Reading List (Winner — Fantasy — 2021)
Oregon Reader's Choice Award (Nominee — 2023)
Virginia Readers' Choice (Nominee — High School — 2024)
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award (Nominee — High School — 2022)
Premios Kelvin 505 (Finalist — 2023)
All Connecticut Reads (Shortlist — 2022)
ALA Over the Rainbow Book List (Honorable Mention — Fiction and Poetry — 2021)


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