Bingo Square: I wish … (I wish I could be on a beautiful secluded island during social distancing and also have magical powers)
I had been seeing a lot of positive buzz around this novel, and naturally, I was curious about a story with supernatural children. When Gail Carriger used it as part of a Queer Reads Instagram challenge, I realized it would be a perfect addition to my June reading to at least acknowledge Pride month.
In many ways, Linus Baker is a familiar character – he is a cog in the system, he goes to work, he does his best but has not distinguished himself in a way that has led to promotions, he returns to an empty house with a grouchy cat, and, in general, has what could be considered a small life. Yet, there is something about him that is slightly different, even if he doesn’t realize it and those around him don’t appreciate it. While some of his co-workers are going through the motions, Linus truly believes in the system and that he is doing important work; he truly believes in regulations that govern his work, the need for order and emotional distance, and that he is doing what is best for the children. While it would be easy for someone like this to become a zealot (and certainly Baker closes his eyes to consequences of things, believing in the system rather than following up to see what happens after he is done with a case), Klune makes sure to show that Baker truly is kind. From his first interaction on an inspection of an orphanage, he demonstrates that while Baker might be by the book, he also genuinely cares for the magical children he is monitoring and their welfare rather than fearing them or having prejudices against them. He doesn’t use his position to make life worse or interpret situations in the worst possible light – he is fair within the system he is a part of.
As a result of his 17 years of following the rules and being fair, honest and unquestioning, Extreme Upper Management (I loved that Klune didn’t waste time coming up with creative names and just referred to things by very generic descriptions, like RULES AND REGULATIONS for the manual and Department in Charge of Magical Youth) choose Baker for a rather sensitive assignment, Classification Level 4 – the highest he had ever worked before was Level 3. With almost no time to prepare, and threadbare files he is not even allowed to open until he arrives onsite, Baker is dismissed for a month long assignment. He has been tasked to investigate and check up on one of the orphanages that has become a dropping point for children beyond the ordinary, and determine if it should be kept in operation or if the department should it shut down and disperse the children living there to other orphanages.
Linus and Calliope (his cat) arrive at the home, located on an island and is not sure what to make of it. Certainly, these children seem to have more freedom to roam than he would expect, and some of them are more powerful than any he has ever seen; the housekeeper, who isn’t even in his files, is a powerful sprite; and he also finds the man running the island, Arthur Parnassus, utterly fascinating.
It doesn’t take long for Linus to find himself becoming more open minded as he understands the special needs these children have and how organization, rules and discipline may not be the only approach, and he slowly starts to question the organization he has been a part of and whether the government’s approach to supernaturals has helped them or created a divide between them and the general population. Of course, Lucy, as the resident Antichrist (not that they use that word on the island) takes a lot of the attention, but my favorites were Theo, the wyvern, and Clarence of undefined species who dreams of becoming a bellhop.
While there is of course the potential threat of shut down since upper management is suspicious of Arthur’s methods, the novel still feels relatively low stakes and is simply sweet, magical, funny and delightful. It shows how important kindness is, and how even a short period of time can change views, conceptions and challenge people’s status quo – and this goes both ways as Linus also inspires some re-evaluation on the island even as he finds himself changed – or more accurately, is finally able to let his true self bloom.