Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for giving me a copy of this eARC in exchange for my honest review!
What’s new, everybody? Have you ever wished you could pay a visit to a place that would let you take a vacation back in time to any number of notable historical destinations, such as the Battle of Gettysburg, the world premiere of Hamlet, or the Cretaceous Period? That’s the focus of The Paradox Hotel, the new sci-fi thriller novel by Rob Hart (The Warehouse). The eponymous establishment, which caters to the one-percent, has been sending them off on “flights” with nary a hitch, even as its closeness to the Einstein Intercentury Timeport has caused time to briefly run backwards and sparked speculation over ghosts that are allegedly haunting the grounds. But the situation is much more grim for Time Enforcement Agency agent and head of hotel security January Cole, who has become “Unstuck”: a progressive illness triggered by the rigors of her profession that temporally displaces her enough for her to perceive flashes of her life from the past, present, and future. On top of the poor prognosis that predicts she’ll eventually become comatose, no matter how many doses of a medication called Retronim that she takes to delay her disease, she keeps seeing visions all over the Paradox of her departed girlfriend Mena. During a summit made up of super-wealthy bidders who are all vying to acquire the Paradox from the government, which is aiming to privatize the venture after having failed to rake in any financial gain from it, the stakes heighten even further when January has to untangle increasingly inexplicable occurrences, including a body that nobody but her can see in a hotel room and the mystery of whether or not an elusive enemy is attempting to kill the bidders.
**Trigger Warning** Readers, please beware this book’s depiction of terminal illness, grief, mental health, drug use, murder; a quick portrayal of a suicide attempt; and brief mentions of self-harm, suicidal ideation, homophobia, and transphobia.
I’ve seen plenty of readers liken The Paradox Hotel to Blake Crouch’s sci-fi work. Considering Hart’s twisty approach to the flow of time is quite reminiscent of Crouch’s affinity for mind-bending physics, this isn’t an unfair comparison at all. The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch, which was marketed as a cross between Inception and True Detective, also handles its science in a similarly intricate manner. Now, The Paradox Hotel isn’t as tightly written as the books I just cited. The plot is susceptible to getting distracted at certain points, like the time that January has to spend capturing a trio of runaway utahraptors, dinosaurs that are essentially the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. In addition, I found most of the supporting characters to be thinly developed, so much so that when the novel divulges what should be startling reveals for a couple of them, they fell flat for me because I never became invested in those characters in the first place. But I was still drawn into the exhilarating story as it unfolded at a swift pace within a near-future environment that felt like it could be right at our fingertips. Not only is this in regard to the sci-fi mechanisms, but also to the casual queer representation in the cast and the frighteningly plausible ignorance with which the Paradox’s ultrawealthy clientele cushion themselves on their time trips, e.g. the guests who slather their skin in bronzer for a jaunt to Ancient Egypt.
As someone who’s always up for narratives led by unlikable women protagonists to balance out the oodles of unlikable male leads in our media, I very much appreciate the character design of January. A TEA operative who’s gone on scores of missions to prevent people from rescuing Hitler, warning the passengers of the Titanic about the iceberg in their path, running dinosaur-trafficking schemes, or executing any other number of ways to screw with the past, January has seen it all. Combined with the anguish she feels over Mena and the inevitable fate she’s inching towards due to her Unstuck state, all of it contributes to her sardonic outlook on life and her sarcastic treatment of her friends and colleagues. I definitely felt intense WandaVision vibes from the novel’s empathetic commentary on the grief we bear for our loved ones and the lingering presence they have in our lives. What is grief if not love persevering, am I right? That’s what encouraged me relate to January through all the caustic comments she hurls at everyone in her vicinity. It helps that Ruby, the hotel’s deliciously cheeky AI, is usually right alongside her in the form of a drone whose lenses are decorated with googly eyes courtesy of January. Oh, I could not get enough of Ruby, whose impudence injects some lightheartedness into what’s otherwise a brooding blend of a murder mystery and a bereavement tale.
All in all, The Paradox Hotel, which will be published on February 21, 2022, should be suitable for audiences who lean towards SF thrillers that propel their mettlesome protagonists into serpentine journeys through space and time. Even with its shortcomings, it’s a generally gripping novel that left me satisfied with its poignant conclusion.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 80/100