Veeral's Reviews > Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
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Nov 19, 12

bookshelves: mystery, adventure, read-in-2012
Read from November 12 to 13, 2012

Mystery/Adventure genre was never going to be the same after The Da Vinci Code was first published in 2003. It went from decent to okay and then, just plain bad. Brown delivered a commercially successful message to all the mystery/ adventure writers that as far as your final reveal were big and controversial enough, the quality of prose didn’t matter. So after that whenever I read any book in this genre, I prepared myself for every author to try and “out-do” the conspiratorial reveal of Jesus Christ having kids (It kind of sounds lamer and more inconsequential if you say it in just one sentence, doesn’t it? God's kid had kids! So what, dude? Go home now). Because if you were an atheist, you wouldn’t give a hoot about biblical history and if you were a believer, I doubt if it would trouble you if after 2000 years, Dan Brown (being an awesome historian) uncovered Jesus Christ’s lineage and wrote the “truth”.

My point of saying all this is, when I started reading 'Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore', I was dreading the same thing. Especially after reading the plot:

Clay Jannon is our protagonist who like everybody else is feeling the pinch of current economic recession and so is out of job. Enter Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. He gets the night shift from 10 pm to 6 am at Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore. But there are hardly any random customers. And there are some weird rules for working for Mr. Penumbra. The permanent customers visit the bookstore at weird hours and are always in a hurry. Clay suspects that they might be a part of some book cult. So, with the help of his girlfriend who works at Google, his artsy roommate and his millionaire childhood friend, Clay decides to find out more about Mr. Penumbra’s secret cult.

There. Now you can guess what I am talking about. But thankfully enough, Mr. Sloan didn’t join the “out-do Brown” bandwagon. He could have. But he didn’t. As a result, reading this book felt like having a cool refreshing lemonade on an especially hot afternoon.

Moreover, the novel is kept comparatively short, rather than dragging it to 500-600 page mark that has somehow become a standard nowadays.

Given, some readers may find that they have had an underwhelming experience after completing this book. But I would have to disagree.

Of all the conspiracy theories that can come true tomorrow in the real world, a story something like this has every chance of being the one. The amount of restrain shown on the author’s part is quite commendable. Here you are, writing your first novel length book. You have got a good premise (basically book porn for booklovers, i.e. a book about books). There is a book cult of weird personalities. Secrets hidden in books. I mean, you would be tempted to take it to any level, even though it might feel colossally absurd to your readers. Say, the aliens taught us their language. Say, this is not the real planet Earth that we are living in. Say, Atlantis and/or lost city of Z were real. Anything, really. Just so you can rub it in the collective faces of other mystery/adventure writers. But as I said earlier, Robin Sloan kept his feet on the ground and has written a normal yet very good story with a totally believable climax.

So, why only 4 stars? Google ate the 5th one. I couldn't have been more happier if Google was not mentioned after every 3 consecutive pages. I even dreaded at one point that Larry Page and Sergey Brin might make a brief appearance but thankfully that didn’t happen.

All in all, a very promising first novel. I am eagerly waiting for Robin Sloan’s next book.
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