Posted: January 2, 2015 in Book reviews
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By Hugh Howey

First the usual warning when I’m reviewing a book in a series, Shift is the second book in the Silo trilogy and sequel to Wool which I reviewed some time ago. Whilst I’ll do my best not to supply any spoilers for Shift, by necessity I will need to spoil Wool, so if you haven’t ready Wool yet don’t read any further…unless you don’t mind being spoiled of course.

Still there? Ok then. In Wool we saw a dystopian society living within a giant underground silo. Whilst life was no terrible, it was no picnic, and regularly someone would either want to get out, or commit a crime heinous enough to ensure they were sent for “Cleaning” whereby they would be sent out onto the surface to use a woollen cloth to clean the only window onto the ruined world that the inhabitants of the Silo had.

Through the course of Wool we discovered, thanks to reluctant Sheriff turned Cleaner Juliette, that the Silo was not alone, in fact it was Silo 18 of 50, all controlled by mysterious forces in Silo 1 who ensured that the only person who ever knew the truth in a Silo was the Silo’s head of IT (and their appointed successor.)

At the end of Wool Silo 18 had nominally rebelled. In Shift Howey rewinds things to show us how the Silo’s came about. In the mid-21st Century we meet Donald, an idealistic young congressman co-opted by the legendary Senator Thurman to put his previous training as an architect to good use in designing a large underground facility to be used as a secure refuge for people working on a supposed nuclear waste disposal project (if you’ve read Wool— and if not why are you reading this?—then you’ll know where this is heading.)

Whilst Donald struggles with the ethics of the project as more and more is revealed to him, his story is complemented by another set in the next century that follows a man named, Troy woken from cryogenic sleep to undertake a six month shift managing Silo 1, and by default all the other Silos. Troy, like almost everyone else, is required to take drugs that supress painful memories, but when he chooses to stop taking his meds, things begin coming back to him.

Soon the novel is skipping further ahead, describing life and death inside various Silos over the years, until eventually the characters Howey has introduced in this book reach a point where they can interact with those we met in Wool.

I liked Wool a lot, although as I said at the time I thought Howey was better at plot than with characters. If anything I liked Shift more. Maybe it’s because he feels more like a product of ‘our’ time, but I found Donald a more engaging protagonist than Juliette. As before Howey’s big talent is for drip feeding you bits of the story to keep you turning the pages, and the conspiracy and what follows is highly engaging.

Wool didn’t go into detail about the apocalypse that destroyed the world, but in Shift we learn a lot more about why it happened and who was responsible. At times it’s very sad, in particular with regard to Troy, a man who’s lost most of his past, and Solo, the character we met in Wool who we here get to see in younger days.

It’s quite easy to see that this was originally self-published as a series of novellas/shorter novels and as with Wool this does make for a jarring read at times, as well as introducing an unnecessary element of repetition and one can’t help but imagine that a top drawer editor might have trimmed a little fat from the bones of these disparate parts in pulling them together into one book.

Similarly because it’s primarily a prequel, some elements do seem a trifle superfluous. Solo’s story is interesting, but really it’s unnecessary given we already got his potted history from Wool, although it does serve to make him a more rounded, more tragic character. In addition Mission’s story within Silo 17 probably could have been truncated without us losing much.

Howey’s skills with plot and world building really are superb though, and if his characterisations are sometimes a little two dimensional and his prose a bit baggy, it doesn’t stop Shift being as engaging as Wool, and I’m looking forward to reading the final part, Dust, soon.

  1. […] for Dust, however by the very nature of talking about book three I’ll talk about Wool and Shift so there likely will be spoilers for those books—you have been […]

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