Updated on June 19, 2015
16. ‘Shift’ by Hugh Howey
The first book I read this year was Wool by Hugh Howey, the first in his Silo trilogy. I absolutely LOVED it. I started it on Christmas Day and carried it around the house with me wherever I went.
Now, at last, I’ve read the second in the series. Shift is still good, but it certainly suffers from second book syndrome. (Beware, spoilers ahead.)
Wool is a post-apocalyptic story, in which something terrible has happened to the world and everybody has been forced to live in buried silos in the ground. The silos are huge and house thousands of people; they’re also completely self-sustainable. Unfortunately, everybody has been down there for so long that the world as it used to be has long since passed into the realm of myth. Also, no silos know about the existence of the others, except for Silo 1, which controls all the other silos pretty brutally.
Shift is essentially a prequel, even though it is the second in the series. For most of the novel we abandon the characters that we got to know so well in the first one (including the intrepid Jules) and go back in time to when the silos were established. We learn that they were built in America, so secretly that not even the designers knew what they would ultimately be used for. Donald is one of the brains behind the silos, but he doesn’t learn what they are for (ie: to keep a select few Americans alive after their government essentially destroys the world with killer nanobots) until he wakes up from cryogenic freezing inside one of the silos.
So far, so exciting. And the book does maintain a certain level of intrigue throughout. We grow to like new characters, including Donald, and we get to see the terrible moral choices he is forced to face as a leader of Silo 1. The book skips forward through time in huge chunks: Donald and others are frozen and only woken up for their ‘shifts’, many decades apart. This means we do eventually catch up with the characters from Wool, including Solo, whose rather interesting back-story we get to see.
The problem is, Shift doesn’t have the attention-grabbing uniqueness of its predecessor. I suppose it never could really, but I think it tried to do new things and, in the process, veered away from the charm of the original. Wool has this marvelous sense of claustrophobia (for the most part there are no other locations except the insides of the silos) and increasing tension (the pacing is fantastic and the revelations are really well spaced out). Instead, Shift feels a little too much like an exposition dump, like it’s been included by way of an explanation of the history of the silos before we, presumably, get back to the real action in book 3. Of course the characters we’ve met in Shift will surely play a significant role in the grand finale, but I think Howey would have been better placed to spread out the ‘back in time’ scenes between books 2 and 3, rather than diverting entirely away from the original plot.
Ultimately Shift is slightly disappointing, but it won’t deter me from finishing the series. I prefer to see it as more of a novel-length detour from the story I originally fell in love with, and I’m very excited to see what happens in the concluding book, Dust.
“The truth is going to get out – it always does – but it’s going to blend in with all the lies.”
Interested in reading this? You can buy the book here.
Read my review of the final instalment, Dust.