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

Posted May 18, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

on October 2, 2012 and has 288 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

A preposterous conspiracy of historic and typographical proportions involving Aldus Manutius and Google in San Francisco!

In 2013, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore won the ALA Alex Award and was nominated for The Kitschies for Golden Tentacle (Debut).

My Take

This was a lighthearted joy and should appeal especially to anyone interested in fonts, typography, books, bookstores, and computer coding! And if you want to know how this all works together, well, you’ll just have to read it!

A little bit love and a little bit computer coding all wrapped up in a mysterious conspiracy. One that’s been operating for centuries with groups struggling to decode the clues. It’s a conflict between traditionalists and computer geeks. The geeks will enjoy the descriptions of Clay’s playing and the atmosphere and excitement at the Google campus. I know I did…! Well, I also enjoyed Mat’s artistic efforts. My fingers kept itching to get into the studio!

I did enjoy Clay’s virtual partying.

About the whiniest I can get is wishing that Sloan had teased us along more when Corvina campaigned against Penumbra on the phone with Clay.

There’s nothing deep about this, other than the bit of ending philosophy. The characters are a sendup of their respective age and interest groups, all mixed in with a plunging economy.

Festina lente…

The Story

It’s an odd bookstore with a few books in the front for the average customer off the streets while the Waybacklist (shades of Peabody and Sherman!) is the true purpose of the store with its arcane books that may only be borrowed.

It’s Clay’s curiosity that sets things off after he meets a Google coder and wants to impress. Only he’s too impressive to the wrong people.

The Characters

Clay Jannon is desperate for a job and just that bit too curious. He has a background in design and computer coding and a definite interest in marketing. Matthew Mittelrand is one of his roommates and a special effects artist at Industrial Light and Magic. Ashley Adams is a fellow roommate and their landlady.

Neel Shah is his best friend — the typical high-school-nerd-turned-millionaire with Anatomix. Even better is the type of coding on which he made his fortune — boys everywhere will be drooling, LOL! Neel hires guys like the young Russian hacker, Igor.

Ajax Penumbra appears to own the bookstore and has some very odd requirements, such as the logbook. An interesting bit of history. Oliver Grone is a graduate student at UC Berkeley, studying archeology; he handles the afternoon shift. If it’s before 1200, Oliver knows it.

Some of the bookstore’s customers include:
Maurice Tyndall; Fedorov worked at HP; Imbert; Rosemary Lapin is a retired programmer from the olden days; Monsef; Greg (he’s also a hardware engineer at Google); and, Muriel the goat farmer.

Clark Moffatt was another of Penumbra’s customers. He was also the author of The Dragon-Song Chronicles — with a mystery in the third volume that Clay solves. It’s a little bit Paul is dead…

Tabitha Trudeau runs the California Museum of Knitting Arts and Embroidery Sciences. She has access! Cheryl represents Consolidated Universal Long-Term Storage LLC on the phone.

Kat is a programmer who specializes in data visualization. She eats, sleeps, and breathes code for Google. Jad runs the Book Scanner. Raj is one of those brilliant coders who’d probably flunk Social 101. Others involved in the decoding include Prakesh and Amy.

Grumble is a programming hacker breaking DRM code.

The FLC Company hiding the Unbroken Spine
They worship Aldus Manutius and his trusted friend, Griffo Gerritszoon. There are three levels within the society: the novice, the unbound, and the bound who have produced their codex vitae. Eric is the little jerk pulling Clay’s chain. Marcus Corvina is the First Reader. Edgar Deckle is another former student of Penumbra’s. Now he guards the Reading Room.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a white background with a grid of stacked and leaning books in yellow with a script slanting the title across it. Rather computer-like…

The title is to the point, for it is Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.