Friday 9 January 2015

Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a Web-design drone and serendipity coupled with sheer curiosity has landed him a new job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. And it doesn't take long for Clay to realize that the quiet, dusty book emporium is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few fanatically committed customers, but they never seem to actually buy anything, instead they simply borrow impossibly obscure volumes perched on dangerously high shelves, all according to some elaborate arrangement with the eccentric proprietor. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he has plugged in his laptop, roped in his friends (and a cute girl who works for Google) and embarked on a high-tech analysis of the customers' behaviour. What they discover is an ancient secret that can only be solved by modern means, and a global-conspiracy guarded by Mr. Penumbra himself... who has mysteriously disappeared.

A 24 hour book store is every book lovers dream but this has added mystery. 
Clay is a typical guy, stuck in the blow-backs of the economy and in need of a job. It is then that he stumbles upon a small, indie book store and meets Mr Penumbra. I really liked Clay and his situation is one that I can sympathise with all too easily. Plus he was one of those modern guys that loved the high tech but also appreciated the old knowledge in books.

There is mystery afoot at Mr Penumbra's book store and Clay is determined to figure it out. It begins with old customers requesting strange titled books, then Clay using his IT skills to make a 3D model of the shop and seeing a pattern. This pattern, as it turns out, is part of an ancient secret to eternal life and Clay and his friends find themselves drawn into an underground world of conspiracy. It sounds ridiculous and Clay definitely believed it was, but it was also fascinating and engaging and a little bit hysterical. 

The whole story speaks my language of both the love of books and the capability of computers; it blended the old and new, bridged the gap between tradition and the internet generation, books and Google. It was completely absorbing to read, as strange as it was, with a wide range of characters, everyone from a rude artist, a humble millionaire and an eccentric bookseller on the fence between adorable and insane. Definitely one to keep an eye out for if you love books and all the secrets they hold.

Published 27th Feburary 2014 by Atlantic Books. Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

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