The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for working with your friends

Inoculate against your friendship unravelling with Robin Sloan's digitally savvy story of a 21st-century quest

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Ailment: Working with your friends

Cure: Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

It's the ultimate work-life paradigm. You're making money, and at the same time hanging out with someone you really like. The brainstorming sessions, which now involve cocktails, are the best part of the day. And, of course, your friend will understand why you could do with that bonus six months early… and that you're actually hopeless with figures. If you plan on going into business with a friend, inoculate against that friendship unravelling with Robin Sloan's digitally savvy story of a 21st-century quest in which three friends take on a 500-year-old cult, model good working relationships – and learn an invaluable lesson.

Clay Jannon is a victim of the "great food-chain contraction" that has swept through America in the first part of the 21st century – first losing his job at a start-up, NewBagel, then frittering away his job-searching days on the web. Desperate, he resorts to old-fashioned means, walking the streets looking for "Help Wanted" signs. He's convinced Mr Penumbra's quixotically named shop, densely forested with shelves of books he's forbidden to open, is a front for something else – and it is.

When Mr Penumbra goes missing, Jannon ropes in new girlfriend Kat – a genius from Google with cute micromuscles – and his best friend Neel, a software millionaire, to help him crack the secrets of the mysterious "Unbroken Spine", as the members of this bookish cult call themselves.

Their journey – which takes them from San Francisco to New York and back in slickly written prose – is a gratifying one for lovers of books made of paper and ink. But it's also a tale about what really matters in life. Working with your friends can be enormous fun; you might even achieve great things. But when the demands of work and friendship collide and threaten to implode, which way will you jump?