Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

“He has the strangest expression on his face- the emotional equivalent of 404 PAGE NOT FOUND.” (Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan)

Mr. Penumbras 24-hour bookstore CoverThis is exactly the kind of book I should love. It blends technology and art with a kids-book-like quick-paced  plot, quirky characters, and even contains a book within a book – which gets me every time. But not this time. The characters were too perfectly eccentric, the plot too quick and tidy, and the blend of tech and books a little too forced. In real life, people’s talents and hopes are not so easy to ferret out and use to your advantage.

Perhaps one of the reasons people love fantasy so much is that it models a passion and purpose that modern life, with all of its apathy, can no longer contain. Sloan attempts to update the fantasy quest storyline by giving it a modern, skeptical hero – but by doing so defeats the purpose of reading fantasy in the first place. Basically, this is a quest with no passion. The main character finds himself in a pseudo-fantasy mystery mirroring the plot points of his favorite book, which he cannot bring himself to really care about or believe in. He goes through the motions of the quest because he might like his boss a bit and encounters no stumbling blocks that cannot be overcome by a quick text to his friend-of-choice. The quest does not change him in any significant way and only marginally improves his life.

Essentially: this is the story of a master networker, who uses his connections to solve a bizarre mystery he isn’t invested in, which leads him to a much-needed job. When I need some escapist literature, I don’t want it to be that close to real life.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrow – TBR – Avoid

Length: 304 pgs.

Audiobook quality: narrator’s voice made me think I was reading a children’s book.

Ending: Epilog tidied everything up, as expected.

Further reading: I did read a quest story recently which managed to be modern and exciting, but still convey the thrill and excitement of a character with a real need to complete his quest. It had its own problems, but Ready Player One is a crazy readable book.


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