It has been a very long time since I read something as unputdownable as Wool by Hugh Howey. Right from the first page I was utterly hooked. The premise is somewhat unique; a community of people are living in the dystopian setting of a giant underground ‘silo’ in what we presume to be a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland. It’s well equipped and self-sustaining, and absolutely bloody enormous. It has its own governmental system and law enforcement, with different levels of the silo equipped for different jobs. It largely ticks over without incident, but the opener is that this has not always been the case – there have been troubles in the past. Big troubles. Needless to say, those troubles may not be as ‘over’ as the authorities would like the silo’s residents to believe.
The characters we meet in the first few chapters – the Sheriff, Holston, and his deputy Marnes; Jahns, the silo’s Mayor; Juliette, who works in engineering – are intriguing, likeable and extremely well-written. To say too much more about the book’s characters or plot would quickly stray into the territory of spoilers, but fortunately, I don’t think it’s needed in order to to espouse the glory of Wool.
The setting, characters, and writing are all outstanding, and if you’re even remotely into dystopian future novels or straight-up sci fi then you should absolutely, 100% read this book. On its own, Wool would get 5 stars, without question.
That’s not to say that the 2 follow-ups to Wool – Shift and Dust, respectively – are bad books. They’re not bad at all. They keep you on your toes, the plot twists and turns, there were multiple occasions where I literally held my breath as I was reading. You care about the characters, become enmeshed in the story, and it’s well crafted. They just never, for me, reached the dizzying heights of Wool on its own.
The reason for this, I believe, is that unlike Shift and Dust, Wool was originally published as a serial, one short story at a time. Wool, along with the originally 3-part Shift, was released as an omnibus in the run up to the release of Dust, the 3rd book in the trilogy (and the only one originally published as a novel).
This means that the pace of Wool stands apart from most other books in the genre; rather than a steady build to the big conclusion at the end, with Wool you get walloped repeatedly by a series of Big Finishes that mean the book has plot twists every which way. Somehow this never, ever feels confusing or contrived and still manages to build up to an immensely satisfying, final-gigantic-wallop conclusion. Reading Wool was like being repeatedly punched in the gut, and it feels so good you’re grateful for it.
After that, when I finished it I was immediately begging for more. Shift, however, is not a sequel to Wool but a prequel. It was also written as a 3 longer short stories, rather than 5. It yanks you right out of the heart of the action to a quieter, stiller moment and holds you there over a much, much longer time period than is covered in the first book. The tension in Shift is less volatile than that in Wool – more of the slowly growing unease variety, especially once you work out what’s coming – and though it was still highly enjoyable it left me wanting more of what I’d been gifted in its predecessor.
With Shift, you’re thrown back once again into the heart of the action, but as it was written and released as one novel it reads like one. Again, it’s far from bad, but it just never reaches the amazing-ness of Wool on its own. If you’re someone who doesn’t need to know the answers to everything that happens, I’d actually recommend reading it as a stand-alone novel; it wouldn’t disappoint. Wool is one of the best books I read in 2018; it’s just a shame that the amazing punch-packing pace was unsustained.
[Wool: 5 Stars. Shift: 3 Stars. Dust: 3 Stars. Overall Rating: 4 Stars.]