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

penumbraI’m not sure where to begin…it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this one. It’s been on my to-read list for almost a year (though admittedly, that’s shorter than a lot of my books have been on the list), and I finally got it from the library. The total time taken to read it was maybe 3 or 4 hours, though I read it over a span of about 20 hours.

It’s a story about a secret society of bibliophiles started by Aldus Manutius, a Venetian printer and publisher living during the 15th and 16th centuries. Manutius left the key to immortality to be decoded by his followers through the careful study of codex vitae, and once the codex written by Manutius is solved (which they’ve been working on for the past 500 years), all past members of the secret society will be resurrected and all current and future members will have eternal life.

Meanwhile, the narrator of the story thinks all this is BS, but goes along with it anyway out of curiosity and dedication to his employer, Mr. Penumbra. Clay Jannon is snarky and witty, two things I love in a protagonist. His inner monologue kept me thoroughly entertained and even made me giggle to myself once in awhile. The author, Robin Sloan, is able to make his narrator’s voice light without diminishing the mystery of the secret society or the reader’s curiosity about whether the key to immortality is really to be found in a 500-year-old book.

The book has a curious mix of dusty old books and shiny new PCs, as the reader gets a history lesson in early printing techniques as well as a view into the inner workings of Google. I’m not-so-secretly envious of programmers, and so enjoyed the tango between the new and old that Sloan wove into his story. I’ll definitely be reading more of his work in the future.

Check out Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore on Goodreads.


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