Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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“Why does the typical adventuring group consist of a wizard, a warrior, and a rogue, anyway? It should really be a wizard, a warrior, and a rich guy. Otherwise who’s going to pay for all the swords and spells and hotel rooms?”


Clay Jannon would do anything to get a job in modern-day San Francisco – anything including working the night shift at a dusty bookstore that’s open 24/7. His background is in web design, but at least he read one fantasy series when he was younger, so maybe he’s qualified? The towering shelves of the store are filled with incomprehensible books, the customers are eccentric, and the epic adventure the bookstore introduces is, well, just plain strange.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is one of the most weirdly well-crafted novels I’ve read in a while.  I hesitated at first since I’m not really into fantasy, and the synopsis seemed a bit too magic-y for me. I’ll take the high drama of everyday life over epic dramas of crusaders in far off lands any day, thank you. I don’t know why. However, this book pleasantly surprised me.

The novel sort of reminds you of Harry Potter in how it’s a hodgepodge of the realistic with the fantastic. Technological computer savvy “magic” is mixed up with old…enchanted?…paper books.  If that sounds confusing, don’t worry. The character who narrates the story, Clay, is not entirely sure of what’s going on either. Beyond the brilliant plot line, Robin Sloan’s humorous writing style makes the book stand out. The characters would be off solving this complex mystery about a historical book club that revolves around a certain font, and then boom. The author throws in something like a side character who built his career on simulated boobs. Immature? Maybe. But admittedly still funny.

On top of the quirkiness, the novel communicates an interesting message as readers follow the characters on their journey.  As we see, the modern-day era gives access to so many different tools to solve problems. Technology, internet servers, books new and old, your friend network, etc.  That doesn’t mean that one method should be championed above the other though. Probably the answer to the problem to be solved isn’t even of eternal significance anyways.  These ideas are pretty counter-cultural in an era with so many voices saying things like “the internet is ruining culture” or “books are becoming obsolete.”

Even if you aren’t a nerd like me and don’t even care about subliminal themes, you should still read it. At the least, it’s entertaining.

Recommended to: students, adults, anyone looking for a smart but fun read.

Happy reading. (:




Filed under books

4 responses to “Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

  1. mom

    so should I go back and reread the ending before we return the book to the library????


  2. Terry Elder

    I started this book and could not get into it although the characters seemed very interesting. You write so well, Lane. Do you ever get into reading themes? I do. For example I find myself drawn to a specific time period or novels based in rural areas.


    • Hmm…sometimes I do like certain settings better than others. I like books that take place in the 1930s, 1960s, or modern-day high school and college (although that last one might just be because of the stage of life I’m in). 😀


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