Review: Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan

There has always been a little obscure bookstore hidden amidst the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. Ajax Penumbra 1969 tells the story of recent college graduate Ajax Penumbra, who is working to acquire rare and occult books, and how he discovered the shop that would one day become Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

In this short novella, Ajax Penumbra is sent to California to try and find a mysterious book. Local, historic tidbits, engaging characters and a literary mystery add flavour to the story and keep readers turning the pages. For bibliophiles, the story includes many nods to the San Francisco literary scene, name-dropping bookshops like City Lights and its associated beatnik authors.

But the little bookstore Ajax stumbles in one night quite by chance is different from any he has seen. A popular hangout with local hippies at all hours of the day or night, it appears to be a normal, small, contemporary bookshop. But owner Mo and his clerk Corvina seem to know a lot more about rare books than they let on, and bit by bit, Penumbra gets drawn into the history of the store, the members-only books, and the secrets held on the high book stacks in the back of the shop.

The story finds the balance between literature and the emerging super-computers of the 1960s. Penumbra’s former college roommate is a big player in the world of computers and their friendship lets both of them see that rare, occult tomes and modern technology are not at odds at all.

Ajax Penumbra 1969 gives valuable insight into the character of Penumbra, especially if you are already familiar with Robin Sloan’s novel. Even as a standalone it is an intriguing read, albeit seemingly too short if you ignore the continuation in Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Penumbra, just like the little hidden-away bookstore, will keep you coming back for more to get to the bottom of the mysteries held within the depths and heights of the store’s book stacks.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Title: Ajax Penumbra 1969
Author: Robin Sloan
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Release Date: June 5, 2014
Pages: 99
ISBN:  978-1782395171

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