Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clay is a twenty-something San Franciscan who finds himself abruptly unemployed when the bagel company he’s been marketing goes bust. In desperation, he takes the night shift at an odd 24 hour bookstore with a very mysterious inventory and even stranger customers. When Clay begins to introduce some modern technology to the job he starts to discover the true purpose of the book store and it’s not to sell books! Dun!

The overall tone of this book is light-hearted, funny and kinda goofy with a good bit of affection for the techie culture of our modern age while still celebrating the written word. And while it seems to revel in all the advanced technology, practically worshipping at the altar of the almighty Google, in the end, technology does not hold the answer to this mystery. It is structured as a mystery (with a little high fantasy adventure quest thrown in) with Clay unraveling clues and smaller revelations throughout the story leading to the big reveal. The end is mostly satisfying and definitely sweet.

Clay is a decent protagonist, easy to like and spend time with and a good narrator for the story. His motivations are perhaps a little vague and not entirely believable but it’s not jarring. The rest of the book’s cast is also mostly enjoyable. Clay’s love interest Kat becomes a little hard to take as the book progresses but she’s never truly worthy of dislike. Corvina is also an appropriately sinister and charismatic villain though a little more depth and complexity to him might have been interesting.

I had really, really high expectations for this one and unfortunately while it was a ton of fun it didn’t live up to what I was hoping for. There’s not a lot to complain about: Clay’s affection and loyalty for Mr. Penumbra is a little sudden and doesn’t quite make sense, there’s a sloppy device or two used to create tension (such as Clay not bothering to even look at a clock during a clandestine mission when it is absolutely essential he be done by a certain time – who wouldn’t obsessively be checking the time??!!). But these are generally small things amongst the larger whole. My biggest negative would be that it didn’t produce a fevered state of reading - I was always happy to get back to it after a break but I didn’t long for it when I wasn’t reading. So, I’ll give it a 4 star rating.

I would definitely recommend this for fans of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Finally, the audio book is read by Ari Fliakos who did a really nice job and whose voice perfectly suited as Clay and delivered much of the humor really well.

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