Monday, December 10, 2012

Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24 hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumnra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Simply put: I thought this book was awesome. I only wish I had a chance to read it before the author came to the library I intern at. It would have been fun to talk to him about the characters in Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore and not seem completely clueless (which I was). For details on why he was there, check out this link.

Clay is a currently unemployed graphic designer. In his desperation to enter the ranks of people with money, he stumbles into a book store and asks the old shop owner for a job. The question Clay has to answer before he gets the job is about what he likes to read, and then is hired for the night shift in the 24 hour bookstore. Employment: Achieved.

And so begins Clay's mystical journey. Not all is as it seems in Mr. Penumbra's shop. After all, it seems like there is no one purchasing books and that the only customers are members of some organization and rather than buying books, they borrow books from the back of the store (AKA the Waybacklist). And it seems that since there are virtually no paying customers, Mr. Penumbra's should be closed.

It is when Clay is playing around with a computer program that he makes project the bookstore that he begins to see a pattern and is driven to put all of the puzzle pieces together.

Clay, along with help from his roommate who happens to be a set designer, best friend who happens to be rich and a fantasy nerd, and girl he is dating (girlfriend? Maybe?) who happens to work at Google set out to find out what is going ton with this bookstore. Their journey takes from from California to New York and back again. It brings them from a book store, to Google HQ to a dark library, to a museum and then to another small bookstore...a different one than the first.

And yes (spoiler!)
Clay does figure out the secret of Mr. Penumbra's 24 hour bookstore.

Maybe it's because I am such a fantasy nerd, but I really enjoyed this book. No, there were no dragons or wizards. Only references to them. But the characters most definitely went on a quest. They made allies, received help from a mysterious hacker, faced danger and disappointment, and saved a friend when he needed it most. All within the 21st century and without swords.

The characters in this book were funny and quirky. The kinds of people I would want to be friends with. The lengthy descriptions of computer coding were not my favorite, but they did show that Clay had problem solving skills, and was not completely dependent on his companions. There were a few times when I felt like saying, "I get it, it's a weird place with a mystery. Get on with it!," but those moments were brief and Sloan did, in fact, get on with it. My favorite parts were when "The Dragon Song Chronicles," a Lord of the Rings-esk fantasy series, began to play a role in the plot. Once Clay got out of the bookstore and began his quest, the book became less about the connection between books and digital technology, but about an adventure story.

I finished the Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore with a feeling of satisfaction, and that reading it was time well spent. Oh, and the cover glows in the dark.

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