No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, July 04, 2011

2011/27: The Hotel Under the Sand -- Kage Baker

One day a storm came and swept away everything that Emma had, and everything that Emma knew. When it had done all that, it swept away Emma too.

It might have been a storm with black winds, with thunder and lightning and rising waves. It might have been a storm with terrible anger and policemen coming to the door, and strangers, hospitals, courtrooms, and nightmares. It might have been a storm with soldiers, and fire, and hiding in cellars listening to shooting overhead. There are different kinds of storms. (p.11)

The Hotel Under the Sand is the late Kage Baker's first (and as far as I know only) novel for children / young adults. It's less morally murky than most of her other fiction, and it has a single clear plot-line, but it's undeniably Kage Baker; sidelong humour, stereotypical characters drawn anew, a strong female protagonist.

Emma, sole survivor of a storm that destroyed everything she held dear, is washed up on a desolate beach, a 'golden wilderness of sand dunes'. She survives her first night only with the help of Winston, a bellboy -- or rather the ghost of a bellboy -- at the Grand Wenlocke Hotel. The hotel itself was buried beneath the dunes after a catastrophic equinoctial storm. Now another storm is uncovering the hotel, which was designed to provide the perfect seaside holiday. As Winston points out, the perfect holiday is one that's as long as you want it to be: Mr Wenlocke's ingenious solution was the Temporal Delay Field, which stretches time within the hotel (except in the wine cellar: it's vital that the port ages properly).

Emma somehow ends up running the hotel, though not single-handedly: there's Mrs Beet, the cook, and her dog Shorty; Winston the bellboy; Captain Doubloon, who comes ashore in search of hidden treasure and is determined to solve the clues hidden within the hotel; and Masterman Wenlocke, the last of his line, a small boy with something of an attitude problem.

And then the guests begin to arrive ... Mr and Mrs E. Freet; an assortment of beautiful people with odd names (Orion, Arcturus, Cassiopeia); the rambunctious 'D. Eleutherios and party'.

This is a simple, upbeat tale of bravery and fortitude, finding friends and getting through the bad times. It's not sugar-coated: Emma has lost everything, and there are no easy answers. But there is a happy ending, in which evil is vanquished and good hearts rewarded.

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