the Little Red Reviewer

The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker

Posted on: October 15, 2017

The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker

Published in 2009

Where I got it: purchased used







I love Kage Baker’s books.  She wrote the Company series, a handful of humorous fantasy novels, and a bucket of short stories, all with her signature brand of humor, wit, and pull-you-right-in writing style.  Her career was cut short when she passed away from cancer in 2010.  Her books have become hard to find, so every time I am in a used bookstore I head right to the “B” section and buy everything they have of hers that I don’t already own.


The Hotel Under the Sand was published by Tachyon in 2009, and is her only known work for children and middle grade readers. This novella has a similar feel to Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, except it is all around happier and sunnier.


Young Emma has survived a shipwreck and washed up onto a beach.  As she is exploring the island, she meets a ghost named Winston. He is the Bell Hop Captain of the famous Grand Wenlocke hotel, and might young Emma have any luggage he can carry for her, or shoes he can shine?  You see,  decades ago, a wealthy man by the last name of Wenlocke started work on a massive resort on these famous sand Dunes. Adding to the allure and magic of the resort, this would be a resort where time stands still. Thanks to a time engine in the basement, guests are encouraged to stay as long as they please! Months, years! When they leave to go back home, only 2 weeks will have passed.  Perhaps the project was doomed from the start, as just before the hotel was due to open a huge storm came and swept it under the sands, taking Winston with it.

As a new storm pummels the island, Winston helps Emma seek shelter, and when the storm passes, the hotel has appeared again!  It’s as if not a day as passed. The hotel is beautiful and brand new inside, and the head cook Mrs. Beet is just walking up the stairs from the kitchens to see what all the fuss is about.


As Mrs. Beet gets caught up on what’s happened and Emma and Winston settle in, the three of them start to wonder if they can re-open the resort hotel and run it themselves.  When Captain Doubloon shows up, he manages to convince everyone he is most certainly not a pirate, and only happened to be sailing by, and perhaps he can help them in their business venture.  They even manage to save a snobby little boy who is running way from a terrible fate. For Emma, this is the exact adventure she’s been looking for. Surrounded by friendly people, in a beautiful home, adults who are interested in spending time with her, she doesn’t ever want to leave.  Captain Doubloon even has a plan to tow the hotel to a more accessible island!


The narrative style has a feel of a puzzle book, with Emma needing to visit certain areas of the hotel to solve little puzzles, as the elder Wenlocke was famous for puzzles and booby traps. It’s cute, that every time she goes to a new area, the name of that area has a sign written all in capital letters:


“He led them down to the second floor, where above a big set of double doors was painted the word BALLROOM”


Makes me want to the book again, just to see if there is enough details to draw a floorplan of the hotel!


To spoile/not spoil things, we never actually find out how  Emma was shipwrecked on the island. There are tiny hints of what year it might be, and other hardships she has maybe already faced in her life.  I wasn’t sure  if there was a Life of Pi thing happening here, or maybe a Gene Wolfe An Evil Guest thing happening, or maybe this just is a scared nine year old girl who was truly shipwrecked and landed on a magical island. My advice? Just go with it. Emma does.


Full of humor and happiness, The Hotel Under the Sand was a pure joy to read. Most of the books I read have some level of darkness and tragedy. People die, lovers are separated, there is a war, the good guys lose, someone finds out they’ve been manipulated their entire life, etc. And then of course, there is social media and the news, which is a thousand times worse than any fictional story.  To randomly pick up The Hotel Under the Sand and find it to be 180 pages of pure sunshine was next level selfcare.  A comfort book that makes you feel good about yourself and universe on every page? Yep, this is it.


The Hotel Under the Sand is a wonderful book for parents to read to their kids. A kid can certainly read this to themselves with no problem, but there are a handful of jokes and subtleties that will be very meaningful to adults.


Never read a Kage Baker before?  The Hotel Under the Sand is an excellent place to start.  Your children will thank you.


12 Responses to "The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker"

It does sound wonderful, I’m can’t imagine how I missed it when it was published! I’ll certainly seek a copy.

[after more than 2 months, I have a new post up — a book you will certainly want to get and read]


Let me know if you’d like to borrow my copy, I can mail it to you. 🙂


Thanks a lot, but I’ve reserved it from the library, it should be available by mid-week.


Got it from the library yesterday afternoon. Will start it as soon as I finish the book I’m reading now, THE BLACK CAMEL.

Liked by 1 person

I have to admit this wasn’t what I was expecting, from your review. It was more, um, juvenile, written for 8-11 year old girls (?). It had some charm, but I don’t think it was up to Baker’s usual standard.


I just read this a little while ago! It was lovely.

Liked by 1 person

Richard – yes, it is a kids book. I was so shocked to see that Baker had written something for kids, since her books tended to have a dark twist to them. Not up to her usual standard? really? I thought the narrative style screamed “Baker!” while still being a nice happy kids book.


Try Up Jim River.


I meant The Bird of the River




It’s but Kage Baker, maybe my favorite of her books.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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