Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This wasn't the perfect read, but it came close: I was "forced" to stay up late to finish because I just didn't want to put it down.
The idea that there is a group, five hundred years old, determined to solve the mystery of Aldus Manutius' codex vitae is interesting (almost as interesting as the idea of a codex vitae itself); I was thrilled that he actually existed (this is one of those books that if you're a reader like me, you'll want to check some of the people, artifacts and events to see what's imagination and what isn't). The solving of the first(?) puzzle, revealing the Founder's face, supposedly leads to more puzzles(?) but we're never told what that could be.
It's never quite clear what differentiates the novice from the unbound, or whether Clay makes the transition from clerk to novice to unbound, but ultimately it doesn't matter. The mystery surrounding the Festina Lente Corporation and the Unbroken Spine (such great names!) is somewhat explained, but by the end of the book there's still enough of a question about what they are and why they'd continue to survive given the events of the book.
I also really enjoyed the secondary characters: Oliver Grone (which just has to be a Melvin Peake reference), Mat and his Matopolis, Neel, Ivan, Rosemary Lupin and the others are just quirky enough to keep you smiling, but never so quirky that you start rolling your eyes. That's the mark of a good writer, knowing how much is just too much. Kat's character was the weakest of them all, but given that she's a Googler and this book has a mild anti-Google theme running through it it makes sense that you aren't really rooting for her (much less her and Clay). And, of course, it was quite pleasing that it was Clay, using old-fashioned footwork and listening to a set of audiotapes who solves the Great Mystery where Google, with all its computing power (and I do mean ALL: every computer they have worldwide is diverted to the puzzle) fails. Hee hee hee.
My biggest disappointment is that I borrowed this from the library; now I have to actually buy a copy because I can see this being a definite re-read!