Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: One of the San Francisco Chronicle's best 100 of 2012 and an NY Times Editor's Choice, this quirky novel connects the old world of dusty books with modern computerisation throwing in a bit of adventure, a secret society and a lot of enthusiasm. Good at any level, but great if you speak IT.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: August 2013
Publisher: Atlantic Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1782391197

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Unemployed and desperate, Clay Jannon wants a job, any job! So, despite not having touched a paper book in years, he jumps at the chance of working the night shift at Mr Penumbra's 24 hour bookstore. Mr P is a very particular employer. The books are lent (not sold) to members of a unique club. Clay is to serve these visitors, log their visit in the smallest detail (including their mood, their choice of clothing and what they say). Oh and Clay must never open any of the books. He doesn't but he's curious. Perhaps if he realised where his curiosity would lead he'd be a little more cautious.

Robin Sloan is an American author and media inventor. What's a media inventor? To paraphrase Robin's excellent website, it's someone who isn't satisfied with existing formats and platforms, wanting to go further and better. This explains a lot as this, his first novel (and based on one of his own short stories) has 'media inventor' written through it as if it were a stick of rock. For not only does Robin want to shake the media world up a bit, this is a book blasting fresh air into the literary sphere too. Now comes the difficult bit – you'll want to know how exactly.

This is a very hard novel to discuss without giving too much away. The bare bones include a symbiotic fusion between old dusty books and modern IT as young people of the computer era (not going to call them geeks… ok… they're a bit geekish but in a good way) Clay, Mat and Kat use their know-how to uncover a mystery. However this is like saying that champagne is fizzy water with stuff in it; there's so much more to it than that.

The first thing that hits us and, indeed, remains with us, is the sense of joy and exuberance that leaps from the page once the intrigue starts to hit. Even when things aren't looking good, our trio plus Neel, their old Dungeons and Dragons colleague and millionaire backer, are still reaching for solutions. In fact at times Clay's enthusiasm outweighs any concern about his personal welfare causing edge-of-the-seat suspense.

You may be at a loss if you don't know your way around a computer, but you don't need to have geek status to enjoy this. However, I got the impression that there is so much more that can be gleaned from the pages if IT is your first language. Even the names mean something. For instance 'penumbra' is that state between complete shadow and full illumination. Also I suggest checking 'potente' (Kat's surname) in a dictionary as you get to know her.

The pacing is cleverly executed. Halfway through, just when I started to wonder if my interest in the bookstore itself may dwindle soon, something happens and direction is changed with renewed vigour and fascination. No spoilers but the answer at the end is wonderful and the idea of it being revealed in a PowerPoint presentation fits perfectly.

Hopefully the very inventive Robin will look at his other short stories with a view to cannibalising them for a novel too. Having proven that his quirk and ingenuity doesn't end with media, it would be a great shame to stop now. After all, if his accolades to date are anything to go on, the demand and anticipation is already there.

If this appeals because you like a bit of original quirk garnished with a smile and excitement, we also recommend Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway.

Buy Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan at

Buy Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan at


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