The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker

For today's Timeslip Tuesday, I offer a hotel that traveled through time, bringing with it a cook and a dog. The time travel part is not the point of the book, so I feel a little diffident about saying that it is a Timeslip story. But, in as much as my reading at present is (mostly) dictated by the books nominated for the Cybils in MG Sci Fi/Fantasy (as this one is) it is the best I can do today...also, I liked the book and wanted to write about it.

The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker (2009, Tachyon Publications, middle grade, 180pp)

More than a hundred years ago, a grand hotel was built far from civilization, on great sand dunes beside the ocean. Sand dunes are tricky to build on, and these were no exception. One day a great storm arose, and the beautiful hotel was buried...Now another storm has come, and washed away everything that Emma has ever known and loved. Cast away on the same sands that cover the hotel, Emma holds back her grief while she struggles to survive.

Then Winston, the ghost of the Bell Captain from the old hotel, appears by her campfire, offering comfort and companionship. And then, when the winds begin to blow again, they uncover the old hotel.

"It was a palace of turrets and spires, verandahs and cupolas, scrollwork and gilded weathervanes. In some places it was five stories tall. It was the most beautiful building Emma had ever seen, and brightly burning lights above the fourth-floor balcony spelled out its name:


Nothing has changed since the day it was lost, because, hidden in its depths, is a mechanism that can hold time still. Still inside, brought forward from the past, is the motherly cook, ready to give all the hospitality of the Wenlock to Emma. And it is wonderful hospitality, with beautiful rooms to explore and tasty meals to eat.

The arrival (by boat) of a pirate and the arrival (by home-made flying contraption) of Masterman, a young boy who is the last of the Wenlock family, both seeking the lost Wenlock fortune, leads to a treasure-hunt around the grand hotel. More arrivals soon appear--strange and magical guests. So Emma, the pirate, the ghostly Bell Captain, Masterman, and the cook set themselves to the running of the hotel.

But it's hard to relax when you can be buried by sand again at any minute. The only solution is to move the hotel.

The Hotel Under the Sand is a strangely delightful story. I especially loved Emma's explorations of the hotel (being a fan of books in which children explore strange old houses). I could happily have stayed at this part of the book much longer, as all the myriad arrivals scattered the story a bit. I realize that "plots" often require that things happen, but the magic of the hotel was so powerful that I wanted more time to enjoy it before things got truly surreal...Although I enjoyed the treasure hunt a lot too.

One could (perhaps) characterize this book as Joan Aiken-ish (the fantastical absurdity of plot) with a dash of Elizabeth Enright's Goneaway books (the abandoned mansion/hotel). If you like slightly old-fashioned feeling stories, far removed from reality, with brave girls overcoming calamity, wondrous hotels and very strange hotel guests, and if you don't require lots of Dramatic Action Packed Adventure, and are able to tolerate a bit of pirate, you will probably like The Hotel Under the Sand a lot.

Incidentally, the nature of the catastrophe that washed away Emma's family is never revealed, and she very deliberately is not thinking about it while she struggles to survive, and then becomes engrossed in the hotel. It is only at the end, when the hotel is safe, that she allows herself to cry...adding a sudden depth to the whole story.

There are charming black and white illustrations by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law sprinkled throughout--but, as is so very often the case, I feel Bad because I didn't even realize they were there because I was so busy reading the story....if you read it yourself, please take a moment to appreciate them. Or you can go to this entry at the Tachyon blog, to see some for yourself...

Here are some other reivews, at The SF Site, and The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswaggle, Gent.

Many thanks to the publisher for sending us MG SF/F Cybils Panelists review copies! We appreciate it.


  1. I just read this one today too!

    I really enjoyed the whole hotel area of the book more so then the other plot lines. Not that they were bad I just was more attracted to them.

    I have to admit I was very surprised by how well I liked this book and how fast the pages flew because I was enjoying it so much!

  2. What a terrific sounding book. I love books that you want to read every free second. It's going on my TBR list. Thanks for the recommendation. I'm currently reading a fun, fantasy book called "Sea Clearwater" (author Selene Cardenas). It's a fantasy/fiction book about magic, good vs evil and friendship. I'm really enjoying it!


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