Matthew Scott Wilson penned this review.
It is a little known fact that most people will believe little known facts before they will believe obvious facts. Thus if you say to a person who is standing in water, ‘You are standing in water,’ they might not believe you. But if you say to a person, ‘It is a little known fact that all bananas are grown at the North Pole,’ they will believe you.— Dave’s Web of Lies
My love affair with Kage Baker — or at least with her writings — began back in 1997 on a park bench in Arizona. It was there, during a lunch hour, that I read her first published story, “Noble Mold,” about the cyborg operatives Joseph and Mendoza, who would become central figures to her epic Company saga. In the intervening dozen years, I have picked up every single work of hers I could get my hands on.
One regret, though, has been that there has been very little of her writings that I could share with my kids, due to the more mature content of her writing. I’m happy to report that that is no longer the case, for with The Hotel under the Sand, Baker has finally and officially ventured into children’s literature.
The Hotel under the Sand tells the story of young Emma who is swept away in a storm and ends up on a strange beach. Like Robinson Crusoe, she begins to carve out for herself a life on the sandy beach, but almost immediately she encounters Winston, the ghost of a bellboy, or rather Bell Captain, as he likes to call himself. It turns out that about a century ago, the great tycoon Masterman Marquis de Lafayette Wenlocke the Fifth built on that very beach the most grand hotel ever seen. In order to stretch out his guests’ enjoyment of the visit, he developed a Temporal Delay Field that would slow down time. Unfortunately, the Grand Wenlocke Hotel soon was lost in the sand as a result of a great storm.
Soon, though, Emma and Winston inadvertently unearth the Grand Wenlocke, to find it preserved through the century by the malfunctioning — or rather, properly functioning — Temporal Delay Field. The Hotel under the Sand is the telling of their adventures as they attempt to get the hotel up and running again. It includes long-lost heirs, pirates (this is a Kage Baker story, after all), hidden treasures, and strange mythical characters.
In comparison to her other works, I would consider The Hotel under the Sand to be one of Kage Baker’s lesser works, but it is still highly enjoyable. (I would have had this review written much sooner, but my 10-year-old daughter took the book from my desk and it took me quite a while to get it back from her — a testament to how Baker has written straight to her audience.) The novel is picaresque, with no strongly compelling forward plot structure. Rather it is a series of adventures, leading to the restoration of the Grand Wenlocke.
The strength of the novel is the strength of most of Kage Baker’s stories — incredibly strong characters. In a strange paradox, you can describe a Kage Baker character as a caricature (“Captain Doubloon is the pirate who doesn’t want to be known as a pirate”) but her characters are so much more fully drawn out than that. She has almost perfected the balance between having uniquely and easily identified characters and having well defined and rounded people populating her stories. Even in a children’s novel like this one, her characters are three-dimensional and endearing. When one character almost dies, the reader can feel the pain of the other people in the story.
I hope that Kage Baker continues to write children’s stories like The Hotel under the Sand so I can have more stories to enjoy alongside my children (like an entry drug to the Company stories).
(Tachyon Publications, 2009)