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The Hotel Under the Sand

The Hotel Under the Sand is a sweet, touching and funny story aimed at children from about 8-12 years old. Fans of Eva Ibbotson will love the friendly ghosts, gentle tone and quirky characters. It has a charming old-fashioned feel. Children books nowadays tend to be hectically paced adventures defeating terrifying villains. This quieter, sweeter yet witty book makes a nice change.

The Hotel Under the Sand is a sweet, touching and funny story aimed at children from about 8-12 years old. Fans of Eva Ibbotson will love the friendly ghosts, gentle tone and quirky characters. It has a charming old-fashioned feel. Children books nowadays tend to be hectically paced adventures defeating terrifying villains. This quieter, sweeter yet witty book makes a nice change.

The story starts with Emma, a nine-year-old girl, orphaned in a metaphoric storm. What the storm is exactly is never explained:

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.

The storm maroons Emma on the Dunes, a desert island. She finds food and makes a shelter for herself. Then she meets Winston, an eager to please ghost of a bellboy. He doesn’t scare her – she reacts to him with the same sort of matter of fact dream logic that applies to most of The Hotel Under the Sand. He tells her his story: He was an orphan put to work shining shoes. He “became the best shoeshine boy he could be” and was promoted to working at a fancy hotel and then as a bellboy. Then Masterman Marquis de Lafayette Wenlocke III, a rich and brilliant but slightly sinister inventor, offered him a job at The Grand Wenlocke, a very fancy hotel at the Dunes. The Grand Wenlocke had an engine that slowed down time so vacations could go on forever. But it was buried in the sand by a storm one hundred years ago.

As Emma and Winston talk, another storm uncovers The Grand Wenlocke. Inside, they realize the hotel isn’t totally empty. Mrs. Beet, the plump, motherly cook, has been napping there for a hundred years. Winston tries to reopen the hotel but the telegraph line goes into the sand.

Then Captain Doubloon, a pirate who insists he isn’t one despite his wooden leg, eye patch, parrot and Jolly Roger, comes to the hotel to find the treasure Masterman Marquis de Lafayette Wenlocke III owed his grandfather. He leads them on a treasure hunt across the hotel. They find, along with some gold bars, Masterman Marquis de Lafayette Wenlocke III’s spoiled great grandson Masterman Marquis de Lafayette Wenlocke the 8th. He’s run away from boarding school and his evil uncle.

The telegraph under the sand reached some strange magical people. Emma and her friends run the hotel for them.

The story ends on what seems more like the beginning of an adventure: moving the hotel across the ocean to avoid the storms at the Dunes. Perhaps Kage Baker was intending to write a sequel before she died. Either way, the story doesn’t seem quite complete at less than 200 pages long. However, it is well worth reading for the journey.

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