The two novels featured here represent speculative fiction escapism at its best—a gentle, magical love story and a story as refreshingly strange as it is affecting.
The House in the Cerulean Sea is the story of a rather round man named Linus Baker. Linus is used to rain and dour prospects. As a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, he must perpetually deal with the inanity of a 1984-esque bureaucracy that decides the fate of orphanages for magical youth. But Linus’ bubble of depressed rule-following is popped when he is sent to investigate an island orphanage with potentially volatile charges and an eccentric orphanage master.
The book is also the story of a man named Arthur Parnassus. Arthur—the master of the orphanage in question—is a man whose trousers are perpetually too short but whose kindness and love for his charges is endless. As Linus goes deeper into his inquiry, both men begin to understand exactly what was missing in their lives.
The House in the Cerulean Sea is the book that I never knew I needed, but now that I have it, I could never bear to live without it. In its pages, TJ Klune shows us the worst bureaucracies and mundane cruelties of a fictionalized version of our own world. But he also shows us what we could be. Marsyas Island, with its enthusiastic magical children and eccentric caretaker, wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”—if Mr. Rogers tried to teach Lucifer moral philosophy, that is.
Simultaneously fluffy and heart-rending, The House in the Cerulean Sea is the perfect pick-me-up for anyone stuck inside or wishing for a peaceful day by the sea.
Where Klune’s work shows us a lighter world, Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink’s latest installment in the world of Night Vale shows us a stranger one. Set in a slightly off-kilter world where dog parks can be gateways to other dimensions and where a Vague, Yet Menacing, Government Agency hovers in helicopters overhead, much of The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home is remarkably normal historical fiction. The Faceless Old Woman tells us her story in a series of flashbacks, recounting first an idyllic childhood on the Mediterranean and then a life of crime and revenge after the tragic murder of her father. The story culminates with her death and travel to the town of Night Vale, where today she secretly lives in everyone’s homes.
Between chapters telling of swashbuckling adventures, the Faceless Old Woman talks to one of her hosts, a man named Craig. And while those talks feel like just another of the woman’s monologues made famous in the “Night Vale” podcast, they are anything but. As the story progresses, we learn that the Old Woman’s past and present are—unfortunately, horrifyingly—linked.
For readers unfamiliar with the Night Vale universe, never fear. While there are callbacks for readers in the know, the book requires no knowledge of the podcast in order to enjoy. (That said, you may find yourself reaching for a pair of headphones as soon as the book is over.) For fans of the podcast and the other Night Vale novels, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home likely feels long overdue. Equal parts running joke and legitimate character, the Faceless Old Woman’s history has been rarely alluded to, but here she—and her world—comes alive, tempting readers with sweet oranges, the smell of the sea and the bitter taste of betrayal. Although we know the Old Woman’s fate, we also know that something remarkable must have happened along the way.