In Other Words: The House in the Cerulean Sea

In Other Words: The House in the Cerulean Sea

A social worker learns the meaning of family on a magical island in T.J. Klune's wholesome fantasy story.
Published: March 9, 2022 | Updated: September 30th, 2022 at 5:02 pm
Alternative Text
The orphanage sits at the end of a cliff, with the sea on one side and a forest on the other.

In Other Words is The NewsHouse’s biweekly book review. Contributors Ashley Clemens and Chloe Langerman cover everything from fantasy to modern fiction to memoirs. At the end of their reviews, they’ll share a recording of their favorite passage from each book. 


A review by V.E. Schwab on the cover of “The House in the Cerulean Sea” reads “it is like being wrapped in a big gay blanket.” As someone who enjoys all of Schwab’s work, I was immediately intrigued. After reading it, that description holds true. The story follows Linus Baker who works for a drab government agency in charge of ensuring orphanages housing magical children are up to code.

Linus is immediately established as having a droll life. At work he is underpaid and underappreciated but loves kids and values his job. This droll-ness is upended when he gets assigned a top secret case, to set out to the house in the cerulean sea — the Marsyas Island Orphanage — to investigate Arthur Parnassus and the children he oversees. The book follows his month on this island as he learns to appreciate the small things and bonds with Arthur and the kids.

Though the plot is one we’ve seen many times, there is something so disarming about the magic in the world and the way it is written. The prose is melodic, flowing and sweet. It is clear that author TJ Klune cares about his characters, which, in turn, helps the reader care about them. Each of the children are a fun, unique character type that show a full range of humanity and are easy to care for.

It’s an extremely wholesome book that I devoured over the course of a day. The strong writing style, paired with the fun and heartfelt characters was a nice break. The worldbuilding isn’t complex, and it’s easy to forget that you’re even reading a fantasy book because the characters are so lifelike. The conflicts feel natural and the pacing is clean, there’s never a point where the book asks to be put down.

As I tore through the book I was moved by the relationships that developed. It works at a pace that feels natural and nothing is forced. I, too, would agree with Schwab that this book feels “like being wrapped in a big gay blanket,” and I would highly recommend to anyone who needs a little escapist cheer.

In other words, 4.5/5.