By Hugh Howey Century 2013 Adult fiction
Score: 9/10 Genre: Post-apocalyptic, Dystopia
The community in Wool are confined to an underground ‘silo’. 150 floors are joined by a single metal staircase bustling with porters transporting goods and messages between the levels. There are floors for agriculture, supplies, deputy stations, apartments, the down-deep mechanical level and the mysterious, powerful, IT placed in the mid-levels. The ‘wool’ in the title is a reference to the material of the cleaning pads that doomed outcasts must use to scrub the outside camera lenses. The view of a desolate landscape captured by these lenses is projected onto a screen in the upper level cafeteria. This is the community’s only connection to the outside world.
Within the confines of the silo many restrictions are imposed on love, birth , marriage and communication. Order is maintained by discouraging curiosity, limiting interaction between levels and imposing taboos around speaking of the outside. Secrets are kept, and lies are told about the past and the ‘cleaning’ procedures. Those who ask too many questions risk being sentenced to the publicly-viewed death by ‘cleaning’ in the toxic outer world. Who is pulling the wool over the eyes of the silo community and why? Can Juliette, the newly appointed sheriff, cut through the deception or is she also doomed like the truth-seekers that have come before.
The setting and the dystopian concept of this novel are intriguing but it is the characters that drive the story forward and make this a tense read. Without giving too many spoilers, the unwelcome deaths of three likeable characters in the first quarter of the book sets the pace of the gripping narrative that you never trust to deliver happy outcomes. Juliette the central character is a non-nonsense, down-deep mechanic when she is approached to take on the high-up position of sheriff. She is a well-drawn character who this reader barracked for every step of the way. Although there are action sequences aplenty these never dominate human dramas and relationships. Even minor characters are carefully and often beautifully described.
Perhaps the only character that was weak and hard to get a grasp on was Lukas – Juliette’s love interest. It was difficult to understand what Juliette sees in him. The reason for this unflattering, ambiguous portrayal may be become more evident in future books.
Overall this post-apocalyptic world and its people really hooked me and I will definitely be buying the next two books in the series – Shift and Dust.
Recommend for: Everybody, even those who do not generally read science fiction/dystopia will find the human element of this story has depth and warmth.
Use to writers : Hugh Howey shows us that rules can be broken as long as they are broken with flair. Some of the conventions broken by Wool :
– the central character does not make an appearance until pg 89 and doesn’t get her own POV chapter until page 123 (try pitching that to an editor!).
– two POV characters are killed off early.
– there are many changes of point of view. It is written in third person limited but Juliette is only one of many characters (over six) that get a section of limited viewpoint. In the wrong hands this technique can dilute interest in the main character’s journey but Howey uses it as a technique to elevate suspense. The multiple viewpoints enable the reader to visit dramatic events in various parts of the setting and timeline that impact on Juliette’s struggle. The reader forms a greater connection to minor characters but is always anxious to return to Juliette’s scenes to check her progress.