I recently had the pleasure of reading Wool by Hugh Howey. My wife bought it for me after the shop assistant at Dymocks suggested it.
The story is set in a dystopian world where everyone lives in an underground silo we follow the the paths of several characters, the main protagonist being a lady by the name of Juliette. Dragged from obscurity in the Mechanical department, located deep in the silo, Juliette is railroaded into becoming the Silo’s sheriff. Things go pear-shaped when she discovers the I.T department’s dirty secrets and she’s banished from the silo into the toxic wasteland outside. She discovers that life does exist outside her home silo, that there are other silos and in the end stages daring return to her home in an attempt to free it from the dictators that have assumed power there.
For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I felt the world building was fantastic and the characters were well visualised. Juliette was a very strong and capable character, but had her flaws and weakeness as well and I found myself rooting from her.
Where GRRM killed off the initial hero of his series and I could barely continue to read onwards, Hugh Howey basically does the same thing and it didn’t ruin the story. I think this was achieved by the fact that he’d generated enough interest in me about what the silo was and what secrets were to be uncovered, that I could withstand having the first person I invested myself in killed off very early. Kudos, Hugh.
The book deals with typical dystopian themes of societal control, control of information, etc and does so well but nothing Hugh Howey does is particularly revolutionary there.
The weaknesses I found in this novel were largely around poor writing of action scenes and what I felt was a bit of a deus ex machina ending.
The eyes through which the major battle scene in the novel are viewed are not even close to those which would show the most adrenaline-pumping or emotional view for the reader. This momentous event in the story could have had a much greater effect for the reader if it had been delivered from a different point of view. In addition, much of the action seemed glossed over .. as though viewed from afar. Effectively it was being viewed from afar, but this had the resultant effect of removing much of the impact for me.
As for the ending,… I guess it was plausible, however I feel it is very much deus ex machina style ending. I didn’t really buy it 100%. Effectively, the day is saved by a character who has been off screen for 90% of the novel until that point who suddenly decides to have a change of heart based upon overhearing a radio conversation. He then turns on the guy who got him his job and who has been grooming him for a leadership role and sides with the woman who he knowingly sent to her death previously so he could steal her job. If this character, Peter Billings, had spent more time on the page and there had been more reason for the reader to not just seem him as an opportunistic evil goon but rather as a reasonable and genuinely good but mistaken guy, then I would’ve found more realistic. Given what we did know about Peter (knowingly sending innocent people to their deaths for material gain etc) his change of mind at the end of the story is a bitter pill to swallow.
If I had to give it a rating out of five I’d give it a 3.5-4 stars. It’s a great book and a great read and I do look forward to reading Shift and Dust, but I feel it was let down by the ending and poorly written action.