Robin Sloan gets it. That’s a shot from Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and it proves that Sloan has had his share of late-night reading sessions, book crushes, and literary loves. I don’t knew whether he’s ever worked in a bookstore – there’s no telling tidbit that gives him away – but he does know what it is to work in a position where his talents are unused, to see others betting themselves while he stays stuck, and to dream of something different:
This makes me jealous. Right now, Oliver Grone and I are peers: we have exactly the same job and sit in exactly the same chair. But soon, very soon, he will advance by one very particular degree and accelerate away from me. He will find a place in the real world because he’s good at something – something other than climbing ladders in a lonely bookstore.
What Clay Jannon does with that jealousy, that bit of longing, is the whole point.
I took points off for the relationship between Kat and Clay, which never felt real or important to me. As David Cronenberg said (referring to the sex scenes in A History of Violence which are graphic relative to most movies) when you don’t explore your character’s sexuality, you run the risk of making them less than believable as people. Clay’s Quest – and make no mistake, it’s a Quest with a capital “Q” – is interesting enough to pull someone like Kat into it without a barely-there romantic subplot.
But that’s nitpicking. A real relationship would have upset the tone, which is light as a feather. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a page-turning mystery meant to charm (Alexander McCall Smith) rather than titillate (Gillian Flynn). On that level, it’s a fun ride that’s as welcoming as Penumbra himself.
Word I Learned:
Palanquin – a covered litter for one passenger, consisting of a large box carried on two horizontal poles by four or six bearers.