Welcome to the fourth installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!
All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.
Let’s get started!
Our book review post this time around features Robin Sloan’s novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
Clay Jannon just lost his web-development job, and on a whim, he stumbles into a strange bookstore looking for a new night clerk. With stories-high shelves loaded with strange books that aren’t for sale, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is more like a library for an eccentric smattering of visitors who come and go at all hours, checking out a single book at a time for reasons that elude Clay.
As Clay’s small circle of friends is drawn into the mystery of Mr. Penumbra’s store, Clay discovers a curious pattern dictating which book each visitor will select next, unintentionally taking the first step into tackling far greater and more peculiar secrets.
Whimsical yet still grounded in a believable world, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is never what you expect. Wrapped in layers upon layers of curiosities — a puzzle within a puzzle about a puzzle, you could say — the book incorporates elements of urban fantasy, coming-of-age stories, and old-school mysteries to tell a wonderful story about the irresistable allure of a quest.
Every character in the book, from Clay’s friends to Mr. Penumbra’s patrons, falls into a situation plenty of puzzle devotees are quite familiar with: confronting a puzzle that seems unsolvable. That thread, that idea of a challenge awaiting if you’re just clever enough to conquer it, is a tantalizing one, and it drives a good chunk of the book’s plot.
What’s truly engaging about Sloan’s story, though, is its willingness to acknowledge the potential for disappointment from both sides. After all, some puzzles are too tough, some answers will elude us, and that’s part of what makes the challenge so enticing. But there’s also the disappointment that can follow victory. After all, if the unsolvable puzzle turns out to be solvable after all, will you be satisfied with the answer? And what comes next?
This double-bladed sword of possibilities elevates an already-intriguing plot and a thoroughly likable cast of characters into something truly enjoyable. This is a book rich in detail, setting, and charm, and even in the slow moments, your interest never flags.
The modern setting also added depth to both the mystery and how the characters confronted it. The book could’ve easily condemned paper books as old fashioned or e-readers as an obnoxious affront, but instead, it charts the highs and lows of the crossroads between print publishing and electronic media, allowing the best of both worlds to shine as the characters delve deeper into the mysteries surrounding Mr. Penumbra’s bizarre bookshop.
You know, the puzzle world can seem like such a secret society sometimes, working by its own weird rules and internal logic, and to see a book tackle that idea with such charm and lightness was a real treat. I look forward to seeing what Robin Sloan cooks up next.
Well, that’s it for the latest installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews. I hope you enjoyed the post and look forward to more book discussions in the future. In the meantime, keep calm, puzzle on, and I’ll catch you later.