Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Mr. Penumbera's 24-hour bookstore is clearly not your average bookstore. It may not even be your average "weird" bookstore but Clay Jannon needs a job after he's hit hard by the Great Recession of the late 2000s and Mr. Penumbra is hiring. He soon discovers the bookstore does not sell many books but there are a series of odd customers who show up and request books from a special collection. The itch to understand why pulls at Jannon until he begins to scratch and scratch and scratch. Before longe, he's stumbling into a strange society of book-seekers who are attempting to find a secret code that may lead to immortality and has been around for hundreds of years. Jannon has realized that he might know how to hack the code and relies upon a band of misfit but highly successful friends to solve the mystery.

As a story, the novel is fun and goofy and has all the allure of a quirky blockbuster film without a lot of action but some fun tension. It definitely plays on a certain niche of reader--some part of that reader is likely a hipster or someone with a quirky persona who might enjoy books that are about books (Mike Carey's series The Unwritten comes to mine; though this isn't done as well), the underdog nerds triumphing against a corporation, observations about how the written word, technology, and magic can be interchangeable, and niche topics like bookmaking and fonts. The audience for this is definitely from the late 2000s or early 2010s. There's a technoutopian element to this book (particularly how it fauns over Google and Silicon Valley in general) that can feel so very situated in the early late 2000s. For instance, Clay's best friend is a nerd-turned-techwizard who became rich largely from how well he digitized boobs for video games and his romantic interest is a Google employee who through a democratic system proves her merit and rises up in the organization. Still, as a novel, it can have its moments and be enjoyable to read if you are looking for a light-hearted adventure with a band of protagonists looking into the dark corners of their local bookstore.

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