The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is the debut novel by Robin Sloan. It started off as an on-line 6,000 word short story which received so much attention that Robin Sloan decided to publish it as a novel. The premise of the novel is a mystery surrounding a 24-hour book store. It sounds fabulous but did it live up to my expectations?
Yes and No, I’m a bit torn. I enjoyed Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore but I have to say it will not be one to grace my favourites shelves. There were times in which the story line really captured my attention, particularly at the beginning of the novel but there were also moments most notably in the middle section when my mind wandered and I have to admit that I kind of lost the thread of the story.
I have a feeling that Mr. Penumbra’s will appeal to a certain type of person who will bust a gut when they read this:
“He has the strangest expression on his face- the emotional equivalent of 404 PAGE NOT FOUND.”
Ok, I admit it I laughed, but I don’t quite fit the profile. I reckon if you class yourself as a computer geek you will relate to this so much more than I did. No offence intended to those computer geeks out there, we need you, I need you, where are you when my computer’s playing up?
Somehow, at times the novel seems a little emotionless, and the characters’ relationships appear a bit flat, the lack of a real connection in the romance between Clay Jannon and his girlfriend, Kat, springs to mind. Possibly this is intentional? Has technology taken us so far that we have forgotten the human touch?
“This girl has the spark of life. This is my primary filter for new friends (girl- and otherwise) and the highest compliment I can pay. I’ve tried many times to figure out exactly what ignites it — what cocktail of characteristics come together in the cold, dark cosmos to form a star. I know it’s mostly in the face — not just the eyes, but the brow, the cheeks, the mouth, and the micromuscles that connect them all.
Kat’s micromuscles are very attractive.”
So, even Clay’s thought processes regarding Kat are technology generated. Ok, I get it, I see where you’re trying to take us in your geeky world, but this particular boyfriend, girlfriend pairing just seems to fizzle out without so much as a backward computer generated glance, a little disappointing. Alright, romance isn’t intended to be a big part of the novel so I’ll stop harping on and move on.
The “bad guy” leader, the first reader, Marcus Corvina of the black robes isn’t as strongly a defined character as the star of the show, our very own, you’ve guessed it, Mr Penumbra.
Of course, Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore does have some redeeming features, the concept of the novel is interesting, opposing the fellowship of the Unbroken Spine means, you will be “burned!” Sounds dramatic, as do the hints of dark rituals, and the ranks of Novice, and Bound. The threat of the “ultimate Sacrifice,” gets the old Bookish Cult imagination going. The ending of Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore is presented in a slide show format, a very different way to present the conclusion of the story, but very in keeping with the ethos of the novel. So some clever touches, and a nice twist towards the end.
It certainly is an amusing read in parts, as the following quotes illustrate:
“I have one (kindle) and I use it most nights. I always imagine the books staring and whispering, Traitor!”
Me too! Don’t you just get that guilty traitorous feeling?
This one kind of made me smile too: “If this sounds impressive to you, you’re over thirty.”
Oh and Mr Penumbra is definitely my favourite character, “Oh boy,” did I enjoy Mr Penumbra, everything Mr Penumbra does and says is spot on. Also the creativity of Mr. Special effects artist, Matt, is a nice touch.
So a bit of a mixed feeling on this novel. Liked it, but didn’t quite have the wow factor I was hoping for.
Very difficult to rate, not quite a four star, yet not a three either, somewhere in between, let’s say,
So would I recommend it? Yes, give it a go. I’d say if you enjoy a mysterious fantasy with a bookish theme, and especially if you are technologically minded this one is most certainly for you.
The following quotes are my favourites, some little gems celebrating the allure of books:
“Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines — it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.”
“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:
A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”
“…this is exactly the kind of store that makes you want to buy a book about a teenage wizard. This is the kind of store that makes you want to be a teenage wizard.”
“Some of them are working very hard indeed. “What are they doing?” “My boy!” he said, eyebrows raised. As if nothing could be more obvious. “They are reading!”
Have you read Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore? Do leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.
Bye for now,
Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx