I’ve kept Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a first novel by Robin Sloan checked out from the library way too long (without breaking library rules, of course) and need to return it today without fail. I was hoping to do the book justice, and I doubt waiting so long to write the review after reading it will help.
The first problem is that I wanted to like this book more than I did. It may be that I’m too far out of the target audience for this book (20- and 30-somethings) or maybe I should have gone with the audio instead.
Problem #2: I was going to say in my review that Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore tries to do for books what Ready Player One did for video games, but I’m nowhere near the first book blogger to notice similarities in tone between Robin Sloan’s adventure quest novel about ancient texts vs. Google to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, an adventure quest novel packed with geeky references to 80s video and computer games. Here are just a few of the first to pop up in a Google search on both book titles:
Clay Jannon, a laid-off Web designer whose friends – unlike him – seem to be progressing in their respective fields, falls into a laid-back job at an unusual bookstore with unusual customers and an even more unusual owner named Mr. Penumbra. It doesn’t take long for Clay’s to become about the books in the shadowy upper reaches of the store that he’s not supposed to look at. After his snooping, though, he’s still pretty much in the dark. What mysterious knowledge are Mr. Penumbra’s special customers (fewer and farther between than the slow trickle of regular customers) after?
I wanted to love Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and expected it to be on my 2013 Favorites List next December, so maybe my hopes were too high. I enjoyed reading it and it belongs on any library’s list of books about books, but the characters felt flattish and the suspense seemed too contrived. The stakes never felt real if Clay and his friends failed in their quest. Also, I was more interested in mysterious Mr. Penumbra than in Clay and wish he played a larger role in the action of the story.
If you liked Ready Player One, please read/listen to Mr. Penumbra and tell me if I am just being an old fart.