This is my review of Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.
When unemployed computer geek Clay Jannon takes on the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore, he soon suspects it is a cover for some other activity, and so the mystery begins. This is a quirky blend of imaginative tecky inventions, such as a Google project to develop a form of renewable energy that runs on hubris (it is not always so easy for a non-tecky reader to know where to draw the line as to what is feasible), and nostalgic harking back to a Lord of the Rings fantasy world. The bookshop is archaic, with shelves ascending into what reminds Clay of the shade cast by dense trees in some magical forest.
Apart from a highly creative imagination, Robin Sloan writes with continual quick-fire touches of humour. Still unsure as to whether I could cope with what I suspected was intended for a 20-something male computer geek readership, I was won over early on by the image of the aged Penumbra tottering to the solid shop-front desk, "you could probably defend it for days in the event of a siege from the shelves".
Despite my admiration for all this, I fear that it could not sustain my interest. The main characters are two-dimensional, the explanations often tedious, the writing-style too often banal, the basic mystery ludicrous, the denouement which I cannot reveal a bit of a corny cop-out. I only read to the end for the sake of a book group meeting which included a skype chat with the author- a charming and humorous man with a very positive attitude to life.
I could have done with more of the occasional original insights such as that, "we imagine things based on what we already know and we run out of analogies in the thirty-first century."
So, I am torn over my assessment of a work that is original and funny in parts, yet also has a juvenile quality, an implausible non-mystery at its heart (try explaining it to someone!) and some dull passages to wade through.