I started this book during my holidays a week or so ago, and I wasn’t really sold on it at first, but then I found myself reading (listening to) it til 1-2am to get more of it. It did take me a while to get around to reviewing it because I’m of two minds about it in a way.
A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.
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.
I heard so much good about this book, and both the title and the cover really intrigued me, but I gotta admit I did not read the synopsis at all and I did not know at all what to expect. I found the beginning quite hard to get into, Linus is basically a cog in a very Kafkaesque, administrative machine that oversees magical youth, and he keeps telling us that he loves children and that’s why he does what he does, but it sounds like he’s pretty happy not to know what happens to them after his cases, and I could not like him like that.
The Antichrist bit had a little bit of a Good Omens feel to it, and in a way Linus and Arthur are a bit like Aziraphale and Crowley in their weird friendly/antagonistic relationship and overseer role, but that’s about where the comparison stops. But what really drew me in were the kids. They were funny, and cute, and yes, murdery too, and you could see that there was so much more to them than what the administration wanted to hear.
Even then, I found Linus hard to get to like, because he was scared of the kids for a good long while, and like, straight up fainting at the mention of Luci… which felt quite ridiculous to me. But by the end of it I was invested, especially in what he would do and whether he would help these kids, and I do think he as a character is a good egg who just needed a nudge (or a shove) to see things properly. And he does stand up to bullies, which did it a lot of credit in my eye.
By the second half I was really invested, and by the last few hours of the audiobook I was riveted and I pretty much made myself finish it in one evening, even if it meant going to bed very late. So in this sense it was very much a good book, but I’m still meh about the beginning even in retrospect. It made sense for the story Klune was telling, and it was definitely a criticism of that kind of administration, but I can see that and still not fully enjoy it. It does work well in contrast with the island and the orphanage’s own way of caring for the children, though.
Overall a good read, worth sticking through the beginning to get to the more interesting bits!
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