Reviews for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Booklist Reviews 2012 September #1
When Clay Jannon, a jobless website designer, applies to work the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, he must promise not to open any of the volumes shelved in the dimly lit, way-back stacks that stretch to the ceiling. These titles are only for members of a book club, who arrive periodically in the wee, small hours to trade one obscure manuscript for another. But it doesn't take long before boredom--and curiosity--gets the better of Clay. Between occasional customers, he designs a 3-D virtual replica of the store on his laptop and discovers a pattern to the borrowing and more questions than answers when he finally cracks one of the dusty tomes. Sloan has crafted a delightful modern-day fantasy adventure, replacing warriors, wizards, and rogues with a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, a Googler, and a book clerk. Even nongeeks will appreciate the technological wizardry used by Clay and his sidekicks as they jet from San Francisco to New York in an attempt to unlock the secret message encrypted in a mysterious pattern of codes. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2012 October
A 21st-century tale of wonders
Robin Sloan’s funny debut novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, is both a celebration and a send-up of the clashing worlds of technology and those who cling to dead-tree books. After losing a job at the corporate headquarters of NewBagel, where “ex-Googlers” developed software to create the perfect bagel, Clay Jannon gets hired at an unconventional bookstore in San Francisco. Unconventional because it’s open 24 hours, has very few customers, is vertical—there are three stories worth of books you have to climb a ladder to retrieve—and the books are written in secret code. What at first seems to be a front for an illegal operation turns out to be connected with a cult, and Clay goes on a mission to solve the mystery that has been plaguing its members for centuries, enlisting the help of a quirky team, like the Google acolyte he’s dating, the friend who got rich by developing “boob-simulation software” and Mr. Penumbra himself, the hopeful store proprietor.
Though there’s a code to be cracked in these pages, the real treat of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is Sloan’s energetic storytelling—and the many, many lines that you will surely want to share on Facebook and tweet to the masses. (“He has the strangest expression on his face—the emotive equivalent of 404 PAGE NOT FOUND.” Or: “If fidgets were Wikipedia edits, I would have completely revamped the entry on guilt by now, and translated it into five new languages.”) Readers who don’t know a hashtag from a wiki will still appreciate the book’s ultimate message about friendship, and the conclusion that nothing—not even a world full of programmers and hackers—can substitute for a cunning mind. Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2012 September #2
All the best secrets are hidden in plain sight. The trick is to notice the secret in front of you. Sloan's debut novel takes the reader on a dazzling and flat-out fun adventure, winding through the interstices between the literary and the digital realms. Art school graduate and former NewBagel web designer Clay needs a job. One day, he stumbles into Mr. Penumbra's store and, seemingly on the basis of his love for The Dragon-Song Chronicles, lands himself a job as the night clerk. Narrow and tall, the bookstore is an odd place, with its severely limited selection of books to sell. Yet, just behind the commercial section, the shelves reach high toward the shadowy ceiling, crammed with a staggeringly large collection of books: a lending library for a small, peculiar group of people. Clay is forbidden to open the books yet required to describe the borrowers in great detail. Late-night boredom catalyzes curiosity, and soon Clay discovers that the books are part of a vast code, a code the book borrowers have been trying to crack for centuries. Could computers solve the paper puzzle? To assist him on his heroic quest, Clay collects a motley band of assistants. Among the crew is Kat, a Google employee and digital wizard, commanding code as well as a legion of distant computers. Neel, former sixth-grade Dungeon Master, is the financial warrior with his empire balanced on digital boob simulation. Book borrowers, cryptographers and digital pirates all lend a hand, but the gray-suited Corvina opposes them with all the power of a secret society. From the shadows of Penumbra's bookshelves to the brightly lit constellation of cyberspace to the depths of a subterranean library, Sloan deftly wields the magicks (definitely with a "k") of the electronic and the literary in this intricate mystery. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 May #1
Suddenly jobless in the current recession, San Francisco web designer Clay Jannon starts working at the eponymous bookstore, whose few (but regular) customers seem merely to shuffle over to a dark corner and read obscure texts. Billed as a literary adventure; that Sloan says he splits his time between San Francisco and the Internet suggests a potential for edgy whimsy. [Page 53]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 September #1
Sloan's first novel features many weighty themes, including immortality and the concept of the singularity, while asking what happens when technological growth becomes exponential and computers self-aware. Protagonist Clay Jannon is a dotcom-bust survivor who finds a job in a mysterious San Francisco bookstore run by Ajax Penumbra. The bookstore is the haunt of a secret society that exists to decode an ancient codex by the famous Venetian printer Aldus Manutius. With the help of Penumbra, childhood friend Neel, and new girlfriend, Kat, who works at Google, our feckless hero tries to solve the puzzle. Things don't turn out as planned, even when all the processing power of Google is applied to decoding Manutius's codex. Our hero saves the day by digging deeper and finding the true code. The answer isn't all that everyone thought it would be, but it is an answer. VERDICT Though the depiction of Google as a utopian meritocracy seems rather farcical, Sloan has created an arch tale knitting the analog past with the digital future that is compelling and readable. [See Prepub Alert, 4/9/12.]--Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos Lib., CA (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 August #1
For those who fear that the Internet/e-readers/whatever-form-of-technological-upheaval-is-coming has killed or will kill paper and ink, Sloan's debut novel will come as good news. A denizen of the tech world and self-described "media inventor" (formerly he was part of the media partnerships team at Twitter), Sloan envisions a San Francisco where piracy and paper are equally useful, and massive data-visualization-processing abilities coexist with so-called "old knowledge." Really old: as in one of the first typefaces, as in alchemy and the search for immortality. Google has replaced the Medici family as the major patron of art and knowledge, and Clay Jannon, downsized graphic designer and once-and-future nerd now working the night shift for bookstore owner Mr. Penumbra, finds that mysteries and codes are everywhere, not just in the fantasy books and games he loved as a kid. With help from his friends, Clay learns the bookstore's idiosyncrasies, earns his employer's trust, and uses media new, old, and old-old to crack a variety of codes. Like all questing heroes, Clay takes on more than he bargained for and learns more than he expected, not least about himself. His story is an old-fashioned tale likably reconceived for the digital age, with the happy message that ingenuity and friendship translate across centuries and data platforms. Agent: Sarah Burnes, the Gernert Company. (Oct.) [Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC