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

penumbra

Considering my Goodreads timeline has been all over Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, I thought I’d finish it ready to rave about it in the same capacity. That didn’t exactly go as planned.

At first, the premise of the story had me hooked: a mystery adventure that combines the the new ways of technology, Google, and coding with the old ways of books and bookstores. The first third of the book is full of all of this and I ate it up. I thought it thrilling and exciting following the main character, Clay, while he tried to uncover a 500-year-old secret that could change the world.

Then I read some more, and the story started to crumble. All of the problems that arose in accomplishing Clay’s task were never huge pitfalls for him. Everything had a quick and easy cure: the internet and Neel’s millionaire status meant Clay could find any equipment he may need without a problem.

I think I would’ve been okay with the story stagnating if the characters were developed enough that I could connect with them. All I really know about Clay is that he got laid off and now he’s being “resourceful” by working on this secret task.

Apart from undeveloped characters–which are bad enough–we also got unmemorable characters. Kat, Clay’s friend-turned-love-interest, seemed to only exist because she was connected to Google and because she was a love interest. Neel, Clay’s millionaire BFF, was only developed enough for us to know that he was successful but still totally dedicated to Clay because of their childhood friendship over a fantasy book.

More so, the titular character, Mr. Penumbra, is at first super anti-technology and anti-Clay asking questions about the mystery, and then full-force into using technology to solve the puzzle. I wish I could understand Mr. Penumbra’s thought process better. All I can really do is picture him saying, “My boy!” to Clay in some faux old person accent.

And what is there to say about the main antagonist, Corvina? He is nothing more than a cookie-cutter villain. I would’ve found it more interesting if Corvina was more than just stuck in his evil ways–there have to be more motivations other than maintaining power, and even if it’s just about maintaining power, there must be a better way to convey what Corvina really stands for.

Finally, the 500-year-old secret did not turn out to be more than a sappy way to finish the book. I think if the book had better structure and better characters I would’ve forgiven the ending. I even think I would’ve forgiven the annoying epilogue that detailed all of the happy futures of each character, as if I had any connection to them whatsoever while reading.

2/5

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