A Book Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
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 customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything--instead, they "check out" large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele's behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore's secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.
I was hooked the moment I saw the cover on this book, without even reading the title (which is a tad difficult as it is spread right across the front), and was completely sold after reading the blurb. All good things come in books, and books about books is the best bang for your buck there is. Especially when it consists of quirky shops with even quirkier shop owners, and mysterious secret societies.
What I Loved
Like I said a book about books for a bibliophile is hard to beat. I also just recently ready The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, which is another book about books, but completely different in terms of writing and plot line, but it was still incredible.
What I loved most about this novel by Robin Sloan was the amount of development placed into each character. I find that a lot of the time authors dedicate more time to their main characters, which is natural, but by taking even the minor characters and turning them into actual people in the world of the book, it adds a lot more for me to value. Albeit, some of the characters didn't get names right away (Northface), I was given a full image of their quirks and personalities.
The general imagery through out the novel was beautiful as well. The description of the bookstore and of the Matropolis creation that was taking over Clay's house; all the details are something I really value in what I am reading. I know there are some people who don't enjoy superfluous description, but I love that. I just recently spent the day at a museum in SE Wisconsin called The House on The Rock, and every room in that house, and the rest of the attraction reminded me of the worlds that people are able to build within novels, and it is something I truly admire. It's hard enough to build a tangible world that a person may only imagine, but putting it only into words? Impressive.
I also really appreciate that each character had a large part to play in the plot line. Clay was the obvious main antagonist, as the novel is voiced in 1st person, but each of his friends held a large feature in the book and contributed to uncovering the mystery of the bookstore. I am often turned off by characters that make an appearance just to fill space.
And the greatest accomplishment this novel made was being interesting enough to hold me to it (mostly) nonstop for two weeks. Any book that can do that, especially when I'm so can be easily pulled away by life and being a grown up, gets an A in my book. I admit there were a few lulls for me, especially after the decoding of Manutius's Codex Vitae, but I still trudged through that in record time realizing there was obviously a bigger & better end than that, as I still had 1/5 of the book left. Sloan really keeps you guessing throughout at what might be going on in this book store, and keeps you invested until the very last page.
What I Didn't Love
There is a certain character in this that I just did not enjoy at all.
Well, maybe I can't say that, but she wasn't my favourite. If I knew her in person I assure you I would have called her out on a lot of her live-forever-google-is-my-life crap. She just seemed full of it, and yes, there are always those people and those characters in everything we read, but I especially did not enjoy her.
Another point to be made, there is a lot of tech jargon that I didn't really understand and my eyes may have glazed over while reading through certain parts containing specific topics. I didn't understand it so much, that I don't even know if half the possibilities that were made evident in the novel actually exist. But that must be a sign of a good author. I didn't love this, but I didn't hate it either. There will always be something I don't know when I'm reading a novel, and that just leaves us with more room to learn.
Overall I thought it was an awesome book and the author has definitely hooked me into checking out anything else he has written, especially the prequel to the novel, Ajax Penumbra.
I would recommend this to anyone who as a serious book fetish, and if you enjoy a good mystery. This book makes you want to believe that the kitschy little hole in the wall bookstore in your town holds ancient secrets in it's shelves, and what is the harm in that?
Oh and the book cover glows in the dark, which I only found out after about a week of reading the book. But how cool is that?! I have yet to know of any other book that glows in the dark, if you know of one let me know cause I will read that!