Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
By description, look, and tone, this novel sets up like a fantasy story. And from the certainly expects a wizard or two to show up. Or some type of imaginative creature. Towards the middle, a bit of magic does enter the book--however it’s actually more of the scientific, technological magic type of stuff. More precisely, it’s Google.

The story starts out with the bookstore mentioned in the title. The place is shaped strangely, it’s run by an old eccentric, the customers are mysterious, and the purpose of the store is unknown. As I wrote earlier, everything is in place for what you expect...a bit of magic to pop up. But then the real reason for the strange 24-Hour store takes shape, a nice love interest comes around the corner to spice up the life of our hero Clay, and then everything goes in a whole new direction.

This mashup of old book world charm and new tech centered on Google is the structure on which all the action plays out. The author does a nice job of balancing the two and it’s this balance itself--or rather the tipping of the balance--that provides the tension, which is a neat effect.

The story’s characters are well-written and enjoyable. Clay, the head honcho, grows in his understanding of the world around him and throughout his story arc, he’s able to find himself a new lane in life. Kat, his love interest, is driven and intense--though a bit one dimensional. However it’s her presence that flips the switch for Clay so she’s pretty critical to the whole thing. Mr. Penumbra is the wise, ancient owner of the Bookstore (obviously) and he’s the man readers will be just certain is a wizard. Spoiler: he’s not. There is also a nice array of side characters to help carry everything out.

In fact, this motley crew of main players and small players come together to form a “questing group” of sorts. A fact in which Clay takes some pride. He even goes so far as to give fantasy adventure names and characteristics to himself and his friends, which was a cool part of the story for me.

So again, the novel explores this delicate combination of being devoted to books, words, and the excitement, convenience, and effectiveness of state-of-the-art technology. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I recommend this book to high school readers and older, just because it’s a fairly complex plot packed into a short, quick read. Specifically, it’s ideal for anyone who has ever thought “I like the thought and feel of books but they are just so “bookish”...I wish they had more modern tech in them.” Or the opposite: “Books are all there is, I do not believe in Google or technology, and old school books can never mix with the modern world.”

Well, pay a visit to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and you just may change your mind one way or the other.

Happy Reading!