***This may contain spoilers, please proceed with caution, can’t say that I didn’t warn you!***
This wasn’t an immediate favorite of mine. The beginning was a bit dark and dreary, though, to be honest, I hadn’t been sure what to expect. And I wasn’t extremely displeased with the overcast feel, I do like some darker and sometimes depressing reads. I can’t tell you why or how I managed to get past the first few chapters...a lot of me had been hoping for something a bit lighter...and maybe I somehow knew that it would become brighter. I’m not sure. I didn’t hate it but I also didn’t love the inauspicious beginnings of this novel.
But here is why I am glad I stuck around and that I didn’t put this down after about five chapters in. The story as a whole was beautifully nuanced and the characters are all multifaceted and feel real. The beginning, now that I’ve actually read the book through serves the purpose of showing the stark difference between life and truly living that life. We shouldn’t be so tied up in rules and regulations that we cannot see what is right in front of us.
Linus Baker is a case worker, he is supposed to assess whether “orphanages” for magical youths are doing their job properly. Which while seemingly a good and noble thing Mr. Baker doesn’t concern himself with what comes after he makes his recommendation. The rules and regulations stipulate that that is someone else's problem (which will always and forever be SEP shields in my mind, thanks to Hitchhikers Guide…).
And his life is rather sad but it's the best he can manage working 17 years at the same job and always following the expectations of others. But then he gets a special assignment and his whole world is turned upside down.
He is picked for this assignment because he has done the best job of making thorough reports based only on the facts, never letting himself be swayed by his feelings or heart. This is what he’s trained for, and yet, as soon as he sets foot on the island he is constantly feeling off kilter and incapable of keeping his heart outside of the report process.
The children are beings that defy his expectations. All their lives they’ve been told by society that they don’t matter, that they are monsters and that they do not belong. Linus must put aside his prejudice to truly see them and make an accurate assessment but the more he does so the more he feels for them.
Then there is the master of the house, Arthur Parnassus, with which Linus feels a deep connection. Will he still feel that as the agency he works for tries to keep his loyalty by spilling secrets that weren’t theirs to share? That is the moment he begins to question their intentions and it ends up furthering his connection to the mysterious Arthur.
“Why can’t life work whatever way we want it to? What’s the point if you only do it how others want you to?...There are moments in your life, moments when chances have to be taken. It’s scary because there is always the possibility of failure. I know that”
—Zoe to Linus as he is leaving Arthur and the children behind
The ending is what moved and resonated with me. It’s also bloomed with such color and joy, especially compared to the beginning. Linus lets go of his rules, his regulations, and his entire existence to go back to the house in the Cerulean Sea because they all showed him (even Lucy, the not-so-scary child antichrist) that he had never really, truly been living until he met them. They loved him and encouraged him to live in a way that no one had before.
“‘I popped my bubble,’ he told her, needing her to understand. ‘It kept me safe, but it kept me from living…’”
—Linus to Helen on his way back to Arthur and the children
Linus Baker learns that life is often only worth living when you have something to live for, the children and his love for both them and Arthur. Choosing to come back to them is the most terrifying decision he could make because there is so much room for failure, he had already failed them, in a way, by leaving when it was obvious to everyone involved that he wanted to stay, to live.
Rules, regulations, expectations, those often only take away from your ability to live life to the fullest and most joyful. I know that first hand, I was always trying to follow ALL the rules/regulations or find someone else's expectation to cling to. It wasn’t until I made that terrifying decision to live life on my terms that I understood what living truly was.
—A Recovering Design Imposter