Floating Hotel is Optimistic, Beautiful, and Grand

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Entering the world of Floating Hotel by Grace Curtis is an experience much like how guests feel as they first enter the titular floating hotel, Abeona, itself: impressed by its scale; struck by the care for every detail; likely to overlook the deeper dynamics at play… at least at first. Curtis welcomes us into the Abeona through a newcomer’s eyes, ensuring that our impression is as positive as possible. Her language is accessible and appropriate to her characters. The plot, as we read further, unfolds like a puzzle box, a delight and a bittersweet relief. It has the optimism of Becky Chambers and the beautiful imagery of Arkady Martine, all in the setting of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

But wait, I hear you say, back up — the hotel floats?

Let me explain.

Cast your mind far, far future-ward, to when humanity has spread across the galaxy and lives under the rule of a ‘perfect’ Emperor. Society is heavily stratified, where the poorest citizens are relegated to barely habitable planets and paid a pittance for strip-mining their own homes while the super-wealthy flit from amusement to amusement without any sense of social responsibility (what do you mean, that sounds familiar?). Nestled in the midst—and yet always at the periphery—of this society, the Abeona is a classy ‘home away from homeworld’ for these elites. Yet there is more to the Abeona than meets the eye: drama, trauma, angst, and even murder accompany them on their journey between the stars and planets.

Let’s discuss characters: as mentioned, the guests of the hotel make up the creme de la creme of the Empire, but not all are what they seem to be. The dapper Mr Corinth is there to track down an anti-Empire propagandist; the tension between the honeymooning Appleseeds masks something far darker; the annual academic conference is tasked with decoding a strange block of numbers with consequences beyond what anyone ever expected. The staff, for whom the hotel is actually home, hail from much humbler backgrounds: Carl, the affable manager, grew up on one of those strip-mined planets; Uwade, concierge and nail polish enthusiast, is the child of disgraced and destitute aristocrats; acerbic lifeguard Rogan has a background so obscure she doesn’t officially exist to the Empire. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, meaning that readers see as broad a slice of the hotel and the world beyond it as possible. There are also meta-narrative interludes by the aforementioned anti-Empire propagandist, known as the Lamplighter, which lends an even broader perspective. All of these factors together ensure that information is delivered at a fast rate, but never becomes overwhelming. The worldbuilding feels as real and solid as the hotel’s bulkheads, suspending our disbelief as strongly as they keep the atmosphere inside the ship.

I’d like to expound on the plot for a second because when I was first getting into the book I thought it was one of the weakest aspects of the whole thing, but by the time I finished, I was actually incredibly impressed. I compared it to a puzzle box at the top, and if you’re anything like me, that means that you have to spend a while poking at it before it starts to make any sense. Where is the inciting incident? I asked. When are they going to do anything? Be patient, I wish I could tell my past self. You’re already in it. Things are moving that you can’t see yet. And by the time all the plot threads coalesced in the third act, everything had been so smoothly set up that I was amazed I hadn’t seen it from the beginning.

I would be remiss in my duty here if I didn’t share my reservations as well as my praise, but since my concerns about the plot were resolved by the end, the one thing I have left to say is that some of the characters felt that they could have borne more attention. Several of them only got one point-of-view chapter, so my understanding of them was slightly shallow as a result. But each of them played just the part they needed to in the plot, and at the end of the day, it’s a book, not a collection of character studies (although frankly I would have read the heck out of that, they were all so interesting).

Grace Curtis weaves a hell of a yarn here, and I’m impressed enough to go find her first book, and eagerly look forward to more! Floating Hotel is by turns heartwarming, horrifying, charming, and funny. Check it out if you’re into space, hotels, space hotels, mysteries, found family, mysterious found family, or any combination.

Sophie is the deputy fiction editor of MetaStellar, and sometimes write book reviews too. She has her MFA from Emerson College and spends her free time reading and writing science fiction and fantasy. Her work can be found on MetaStellar, PageTurner, and on her website: https://sophiegorjance.wordpress.com/