Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

BLOG“What do you seek in these shelves?”

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore follows young protagonist Clay Jannon whose search for employment during an economic downturn leads him to a night shift position at a 24-hour bookstore run by the elderly Mr. Penumbra.  The store consists of two parts: the front section that carries regular books, and the back section that carries strange volumes that can only be borrowed by a select group of customers.  When Clay stumbles upon a pattern in customer book selection, he sets to uncover the mystery of Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore with the help of his friends Neel and Kat, along with a few others. Their discoveries lead them on an adventure filled with code breaking, secret societies and examines the relationship between new technology and old school books.

This is Robin Sloan’s first novel.  It was originally a short story that he posted to his website and later developed into a novel, which has gone on to receive a number of literary awards.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore has two of my favourite things: bookstores and a fun mystery.  It starts out with a small mystery in a little bookstore and expands into a great adventure well outside the bookstore walls, where it plays with the conflict between the high tech digital world and the old school world of books and paper.  The main character Clay Jannon is a likeable protagonist and his friends, roommates, and customers are a good group of supporting characters.  The main star and focus of the novel is the adventure itself, and the characters serve as a great vehicle to carry us along.  The author’s use of humour in the interactions between characters as well as in Clay’s internal dialogue is well done and provides a fun and amusing element to the story.  At times it does feel like the book tackles too many different subjects and steps a bit too far away from the main plot line in order to reach its conclusion.  However, Mr. Sloan’s concept for this book worked well overall and it was a very enjoyable read.

Favourite quote: “Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in.”

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