Kage Baker left us on January 31, 2010, at the much-too-young age of 57. Those of us who read and loved her Company novels and short stories, beginning with In the Garden of Iden, will miss her more than we can collectively say — though many of us tried, in those last few weeks, to tell her what her work had meant to us.
Nominated for the 2009 Andre Norton Award for Young Science Fiction and Fantasy, The Hotel Under the Sand is the kind of book that you resolve to send to your nieces and nephews even before you have finished the first page. Any book that starts, “Cleverness and bravery are absolutely necessary for good adventures,” is a book you know those budding book lovers in your family are going to enjoy, and maybe even the non-readers who are usually busy playing sports instead. The book starts with a terrible storm, as all good books should (think of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, after all). The storm sweeps Emma away and out to sea, and she must swim for her life. She winds up on an island that has almost nothing but sand — and shipwrecks — for as far as she can see.
Soon, though, she finds that the sand hides something wonderful, and I don’t mean just the ghost who finds her. The Grand Wenlocke, a magnificent hotel, is uncovered by the same storm that brought her to the island. Above the registration desk is a sign that reads, “Time is Forgotten Here,” and sure enough, as long as one remains on the hotel grounds, time outside stands still. The idea was to allow vacationers to spend a month or more without missing more than a weekend or so from their jobs, which I think is an invention that really ought to be perfected in the real world.
The hotel has a magnificent library, of course, putting one in mind of the library from the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. There’s a cook who has been there since the hotel slipped under the sand (time stands still, remember; the cook was frozen in time with the hotel, as was the bread she was baking; nothing burned!). A dachshund named Shorty immediately takes to Emma. Before long, a pirate shows up, complete with parrot (yes, this story has everything), and a search for treasure begins. The search has very unusual clues to guide it, and turns up all types of treasures, and even a person who might not be very treasurable at all; it rather depends on how spoiled he is.
The Hotel Under the Sand is an instant classic. Read it to your nine-year-old, or let your 12-year-old read it to you. Or if you’re a grown-up, like me, just sit back and enjoy it. One is never too grown up for this sort of book.