Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore had me at the name. Any novel with a title that includes the word bookstore has to be good; so it would seem.
The book had its moments of interest and intrigue, but I was completely underwhelmed with the last third of the novel and the ending. Additionally, I don’t like epilogues – in any book. No epilogues please. I once read (I wish I could remember the author who said it), and I’m paraphrasing, that an epilogue is added to a novel when a novelist doesn’t know how to end their story. I have to agree.
I found the integration of factoids on typography, web technology, graphic design, printing, and marketing to be interesting. I also liked the story’s fantastical and mysterious elements: the cryptic books in Penumbra’s bookstore; the odd characters reading the books; the narrator’s (Clay Jannon) fascination with a fantasy novel and its author and that author’s connection to the mysterious texts; and the wild technology being developed by Google. That said, fantasy and mystery declined into cliché at the novel’s mid-point; however, the greatest fault of the novel is the missing backstory on Penumbra. The name Penumbra is a mystery in itself. I wanted to know more about him. I also wanted to know more about his friendship with Corvina. These two characters, I guess you could call them arch rivals, reminded me of Professor Xavier and Magneto in Marvel Comic’s X-Men. It would have been great if Robin Sloan had explored the relationship between Penumbra and Corvina in Penumbra’s backstory – the backstory that is sorely lacking.
Robin Sloan’s prose is easy to digest, and there is plenty in the book related to current technology that I think 17 to 18-year olds would like. Young adults are a better audience for the book too. If I were still teaching high school, I’d consider the novel for literature instruction. The book lends itself to lessons on printing technology, using search engines, bookmaking, and other topics. There are innumerable lessons and assignments that could come from including this in a high school literature curriculum.
I feel that Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a good (not great) first effort by Robin Sloan. It will be interesting to see what he writes next. I won’t be purchasing the book, but I will check it out at the library.