Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a book that is not easily reviewed whilst staying away from spoilers – but I will do my best and promise to keep this spoiler free for you all! I’m also going to refer to the book as simply Penumbra’s for the rest of this review.
Penumbra’s is a good story, but, unfortunately, it’s flawed – I also believe that it’s marketed to the wrong audience. I think it would have had more success as a young adult novel, rather than an adult one.
I think that the big problem that a lot of people might have with this book is that you’re not really getting what you think you are. Penumbra’s isn’t really about a bookstore. It starts there for sure, and it’s a very wonderful world – it even has a bibliophile cult of over 500 years as part of the plot. But very quickly this starts to dissolve into the real plot surrounding technological settings and lingo.
“He has the strangest expression on his face- the emotional equivalent of 404 PAGE NOT FOUND.”
Needless to say the first part, the bookish part, is definitely stronger. After that it drops off quite quickly and a fantastical plot easily and quickly becomes a far-fetched one. For example, a lot of the plot development is actually just characters having contacts in their life that just so happen to suit the plot dilemmas at the right time, every. single. time. I’m also using the word ‘dilemmas’ charitably as there was no real drama in the book. The only conflict in the story didn’t really seem like much hardship at all when all was said and done. It also takes a long time for something to happen throughout the story, which was quite a grind.
Another problem with the story was the characters. I absolutely hated everything about Kat, but leaving her out of the equation, all of the characters seemed very thin and 2D. We spend a lot of time with many of them, but we never really learn anything other than basic facts about them. Another question I had was whether or not author Robin Sloan wanted us to relate with any of them at all. I mean come on, who goes to a party via a webcam and a laptop? Ridiculous.
“Books: boring. Codes: awesome. These are the people who are running the internet.”
The other massive issue I had with Penumbra’s, and one I just can’t forgive, is that it seems like one long, text based advert for Google. It was everywhere! Google this, Google that. It treated Google like the be-all-and-end-all thing in the world and I was getting pretty sick of it. It was relentless.
Unfortunately the ending was quite disappointing after all of the build-up that we’d been given – it was almost like Sloan realised that even he couldn’t figure out how to accomplish what you’re lead to believe will happen and the big payoff ended up being a complete copout (see, I told you there’d be no spoilers). And that’s probably the biggest issue the author had with the story – the story was trying to be smarter than it was and ended up being too smart for its own good at times.
“All the secrets of the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight.”
But Penumbra’s isn’t a bad story (except all the Google brown-nosing) – it just suffers from not being crafted enough for the adult audience. I genuinely think this would be great for older children or YA readers. The premise was quite enjoyable, and the lack of a polished execution would have gone mostly unnoticed in younger or novice readers. It was well written with good use of language and contained a lot of gorgeous imagery. There were some really great moments scattered throughout the pages as well as being very elegant and quirky at times. There was even some well-placed humour too.
All in all, I enjoyed Penumbra’s for the most part, but I probably won’t read this author again. But it was a nice palate cleanser and I would recommend it to you if you like a mix-up of traditional and futuristic plots. The only thing I’d suggest before embarking would be to manage your expectations accordingly and you should have an enjoyable read on your hands – plus the hardback edition has a glow-in-the-dark dust jacket too!
“What do you seek in these shelves?”
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.