Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (2009)
Fiction | Mystery | Modern Day Quest
“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 bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.”
pooled ink Review:
THIS BOOK WAS ALL THINGS AWESOME.
Once again I reached in and found a book in my grasp that called to me from the shelves to read its story and I did so without scouring reviews or bleeding the internet dry for information on the book first. Nope, I somehow found myself closing my eyes in great faith and letting go of the ledge to allow this book to take me on whatever adventure it had planned. Well what it had planned was a bloody modern day quest! (I mean ‘bloody’ as in British slang not, like, literally bloody…).
First of all, as a rather recent college graduate trying to wade through the pool of limbo in the “real world” (and also how I ended up with a book blog) I found the protagonist, Clay, ever so relatable. His nerdiness about fantasy books from childhood and his jovial praise of the Potter series simply locked him in as a fictional-friend for life.
Sloan’s writing was pretty dang spot-on for stellar. It was consistently engaging, it flowed, it felt natural, it made me smile, and held me captivated. This book felt much more than a story-telling, or even a recording of a story…or whatever. No, I felt like Clay was sitting there with me in some rando coffee shop telling me this holy-crap-you’ll-never-believe-this story while his coffee grows cold and forgotten and his knee bounces with excitement. The whole time it seemed like he was there telling me about Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in person, and it was awesome.
This is the type of story that you don’t have to engage your pre-programmed smile for the boring bits, you don’t have to skip meals and starve to inhale the breakneck pace of words, and best of all you don’t have to wait three years to complete the journey. This is a one-shot, stand-alone, glowing book of magic filled with delightful twists and riveting revelations. There’s a rogue, a wizard, and a warrior, just like all great stories require, plus there is a search for magic and immortality just like all the best stories contain, and so rest assured you will be in safe hands upon embarking on this quest.
The seed of inspiration that grew this book was so obvious and simple and expected and yet this is exactly what makes it SO BRILLIANT. Sloan gives us precisely what we book-lovers so deeply desire: a real-life adventure! His characters don’t have to leap dimensions, fall into magic portals, be a part of secret government agency, or simply exist in fantasy realms. This adventure takes place in modern day U.S.A. and yet it succeeds in containing all the magic of those other books we love.
Bloody hell, even with the upmost cynicism the story keeps us on the chase. Because you just don’t know for sure what they will find and somewhere deep deep down you kinda maybe sorta admit you hope magic is real somehow. You start out meandering and aimless, then things get a bit intriguing and pick up in pace, and before you know it you’re falling face-first into some crazy cavern of conspiracy and you just got to keep on going because there has to be something to it and yeah maybe the end isn’t what you expected. Maybe you’ll be disappointed like some, or stubborn like others (*cough* Kat *cough* Corvina). Or maybe you won’t feel particularly strong about any of it. Or perhaps the ending was exactly what you expected but well, then, good for you, but who cares because no matter how you look at it it’s still perfect and it made me smile and I really loved it.
Thank you, Robin Sloan, for one helluva ride. Thanks for inviting me on this quest set in the real world in real time and for keeping that tiny fire deep inside of me that insists that magic is real somehow.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a curious encounter that grows from happenstance and billows out to encompass the globe in a quest for what humankind has consistently sought out most desperately. But not all gifts come in the form you expect them to and this book makes no exception. Sloan writes a magnificent blending of the physical and virtual worlds where both books and Kindles, Libraries and Google entwine and compete with gusto.
Perhaps this book is for you or perhaps it is not, but if you have a curious soul, a bored mind, a passion for puzzle, or perhaps you’re just reading this review at 3am because you can’t sleep and you’re not even quite sure how you ended up on this webpage, I still suggest you browse the stacks in the way back and see if this book is one that catches your eye. Don’t run from your destiny, Shadow-walker, because this story puts a whole new light to the aimless mundanity surrounding us.
P.S. DID YOU KNOW THAT THE COVER GLOWS IN THE DARK?!?! I’m not gonna lie, it freaked me out for a hot second when I turned my bedside lamp off the other night but after that moment of confusion and surprise I found it insanely awesome and perfect for the book itself.
Keep being rad, Sloan.
Purchase here: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Meet Robin Sloan!
Robin Sloan grew up near Detroit and now splits his time between San Francisco and the internet. He graduated from Michigan State with a degree in economics and, from 2002 to 2012, worked at Poynter, Current TV, and Twitter. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is his first novel.