BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A young girl named Emma discovers a magical hotel buried in the sands of a faraway land.
PROS: Baker’s easy-going writing style; colorful characters; positive message for kids.
CONS: Missed opportunity giving Emma’s back story some import; lacked the magical quality I was expecting.
BOTTOM LINE: A mediocre story for adults, though kids (the intended audience) may find it more enjoyable.
Kage Baker, who is best known for her Company series of books about time-traveling cyborgs, has a new juvenile fantasy book called The Hotel Under the Sand which features neither cyborgs nor time-traveling, though it does feature many colorful characters and a temporal delay field. It’s about a young girl named Emma who, lost alone at sea in a storm, happens upon the faraway land known as the Dunes. It’s a magical place, perhaps most notably for the hotel that Emma discovers buried there, which is shrouded in a field that slows down time for those inside so that their vacations may be extended with minimal real-world schedule interruptions.
Emma soon meets up with some interesting characters, like Winston, the ghost of the dedicated hotel bell captain; Mrs. Beet, the instantly-likable hotel cook; Captain Jack Doubloon, a suspicious sailor who insists he’s not a pirate though he certainly looks and acts like one; and the spoiled Masterman Wenlocke, the only living relative of the man who built the hotel over a hundred years before. The group have a few adventures together, like hunting for Wenlocke’s long-lost treasure and defending themselves against Masterman’s greedy guardian, Roderick.
This sounds more risky than it is and the kids are never in any real danger, at least until Roderick shows up. It’s more a story about Emma finding her way alone in the world after the unspecified storm which is alluded to as being not necessarily weather-related. This could have been a great way to give some background metaphor characterization to Emma, but alas, her predicament is never fully explained beyond that; it’s only mentioned that she has experienced loss. (Have her parents died or does she consider herself an orphan because they are no longer with her?) Seems like a missed opportunity to lend Emma’s situation some importance.
Being a juvenile novel (as opposed to a young adult novel) it’s helpful to know that there are no situations that would be deemed inappropriate. Emma, who is both independent and friendly, learns to survive alone easily enough and makes friends with those she meets. Those are positive messages for kids. Adults may find the material lacking for any substance beyond that. I was really hoping that it would have more of a magical quality to it…something akin to Alice in Wonderland or early Speilberg films. Instead, I found the story to be leaning towards the pedestrian. Which is not to say it’s bad, just not very noteworthy. Kids (the intended audience, after all) may find the story more enjoyable.