There are a lot of things that can draw a reader to a book. A cool cover, a familiar author, recommendations from fellow readers, a flashy New York Times Best Sellers sticker…
Robin Sloan’s book has a simple yet cheery cover, but nothing that would normally draw me in. Sloan wasn’t a name I had heard of before. But the title drew me in… enough to read the blurb on the back. And I was hooked.
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.
This book was cheeky. Told from the first person POV of Clay, a defunct bagel website programmer, I was intrigued by the self-deprecating humor and the absurd relevance of job hunting in a post-crash world (a fact of life most millennials can relate to). When Clay finds a job at a hole-in-the-wall bookstore, he’s at the point of his life where he’ll take what he can get to pay the bills. Despite his mundane reasons for taking the job, Clay happens to be a fan of a Dungeons and Dragons type game and fantasy literature, drawing multiple parallels between his new position and his favorite games and books. His quips about their mysterious quest, along with his warrior best friend (the ultra-fit owner of a 3D imaging company) and wizard girlfriend (a programmer at Google), make for a fun and lighthearted read. Sloan does an excellent job weaving a modern day tale that feels magical yet is entirely realistic.
The settings in this novel are wonderfully vivid and fun.We start out at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a slender box of a building lined with towering shelves of cryptic books. For a bookstore lover like myself, I was in heaven imagining the shadows and dust whirling up past levels and levels of literature… And on the completely opposite end of the spectrum, our story leads us to Google Headquarters, described as a wonderfully colorful collaboration of great minds and and even greater mind-blowing tech.
And this book left me feeling like I had learned something. With an economics degree, and experience working with programming gurus at Twitter and a handful of other marketing companies, Sloan draws readers into the high-tech world of computer marketing and start-up companies. His characters are all very intelligent, driven individuals, with unique personalities and backgrounds. It was wonderful watching them fall together into a uber-geeky super team to tackle a 500 year old riddle.
Altogether I give this novel 5 out of 5 stars! I really enjoyed the geeky humor and would recommend it for anyone looking for a fun contemporary read.