Book Review: Shift by Hugh Howey

shift-by-hugh-howeyAnyone who read and enjoyed Hugh Howey’s epic Wool has two questions on finishing the original book: “What happens next?” and “How did this happen?”

Shift covers the second of those questions, leaving the former to Dust which is due for release in the Autumn where we find out the fate of Juliette Nichols and the silos.A sprawling prequel jumping from century to century, it is every bit as compelling as it’s predecessor.

The first, and most significant character we are introduced to is Donald Keene, a congressman swiftly rising through the ranks recruited by his former mentor Senator Thurman to design (with Thurman’s daughter, also Keene’s ex-girlfriend) what would become the silos we are familiar with from Wool, unaware of the implications and the sheer scale of the plans of his superiors to annihilate mankind and reseed them underground. The conspiracy runs deep and Keene doesn’t discover the fate of the planet until it is too late. It’s fascinating to see the initial planning for the silos happen all the while dreading the impending apocalypse we know is about to happen and this dread is amplified by the horror Keene experiences when he realises what is happening around him at the key moment when the event begins.

Waking from stasis years later, we find another character Troy beginning his first shift as head of Silo One, the main silo controlling all others. Fed pills to forget, at the end of his tenure he is placed back in the cryogenic chamber until his next shift begins many years later. However as his shifts progress, the strain of his responsibilities show as his memories start to resurface and he realises his true identity is that of Donald Keene and his role in the history of the silos. This also affords him the opportunity to continue his struggle with Thurman, who has also survived in stasis as well as his daughter. Keene now has to struggle with his decisions and decide his fate and the fate of the other silos while engaging in a desperate power struggle with Thurman and his co-conspirators. The dynamics of Silo One are much different to the other silos. It is a soul-less machine dedicated to the plans of it’s originators, operating without question, without morality, able to destroy an entire silo at the push of a button. It is in stark, clinical contrast to the more human elements seen in the silo of Wool. Can Keene be the one to break the cycle and challenge the hierarchy? It remains to be seen.

The next character introduced is Mission Jones a young foot-bound porter (Shift provides us with an interesting take on why Silo One is the only silo that has elevators) in another silo unwittingly caught up in an uprising. Mission struggles with the fact that he was born outside the lottery, with his mother having to clean to atone for her indiscretion. The nature of his work takes him through the entire silo allowing him to see first hand the rising tensions between the trades leading to the inevitable conflict which will change his life and the life of the entire silo forever.

Finally we are introduced to Jimmy, a young boy caught up in the destruction of his silo who finds himself alone, struggling for survival. The heartbreaking circumstances of his survival help the reader to bond quickly with the boy (who we later learn is Solo from the original Wool) As he finally emerges from his hiding place he faces the ghosts of a now-empty silo as he resigns himself to being alone until the inevitable arrival of Juliette many years later.

Shift is a thrilling read. Initially I was disappointed to find it was a prequel as I has invested so much in Wool and Jules’ story. I was so eager to find out her fate and that of her silo I wasn’t sure if I could make the investment in new characters and story arcs. However Howey’s character development and the positioning of these characters in the timeline fits perfectly. Keene is a wonderful anti-hero for the most part, while struggling with the moral dilemmas foisted on him as Troy he has no qualms about destroying an entire silo for the greater good but he becomes a much more interesting character as the plot develops and he learns the fate of those he loved and Thurman’s involvement.

The world of Wool was so enormous, this backstory is essential and only serves to fuel the reader’s excitement about what will happen next.

One thing I can guarantee: it will be epic.

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