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Monday, 3 February 2014

Shift by Hugh Howey

This has been sitting on the top of my 'to review' list for far too long. I've been putting it off, because it's always difficult to review subsequent books in a series without spoiling the first one, don't you think? I absolutely adored reading Wool last year - in fact it was definitely in my top five books of 2013, and I still find myself recommending it to others all the time - so the last thing I want to do is ruin the experience for anybody who hasn't finished that one yet! Let me do my best...

Wool introduced us to Howey's subterranean dystopia, where the Earth's atmosphere has become incompatible with life, and humans have been driven underground. In Shift the reader is taken right back to the beginning of the story and given the answers to all the niggling questions we are sure to have asked ourselves. How did these vast silos get there in the first place? What kind of terrible disaster happened to the world outside? And who are the faceless leaders who have been calling all the shots? The book flits around between different timelines and different silos, which can be difficult to follow at first, but works well to maintain pace throughout.

I often find the second installment of any trilogy to be something of a disappointment. They can be essential for adding intricacy to the narrative, or character-building to ensure the reader is fully invested in the series, but I can't think of many examples where the second book shines as an outstanding novel in its own right. I think this is why Shift dragged a little for me. It answers a lot of questions, providing welcome context to the events described in Wool. The plot development is sound and I finished the book quite satisfied with the conclusions that were drawn, but it doesn't have that magical 'page-turning' quality that I was looking for.

One of Wool's major strengths in my eyes was the huge cast of genuinely likeable characters. Even minor players were very vividly realised and easy to care about. By sharp contrast, then, I found the opposite to be true in this sequel. All the personalities in Shift are either dull-as-dishwater (the bland protagonist Donald, Mission) or predictable stereotypes (for example military man Senator Thurman and his seductive flame-haired daughter Anna). I realised at the end of the book that I'd got through the whole thing without ever even having developed my own mental image of what Donald looks like! I know everyone is different in this regard, but that is very unusual for me as I usually always visualise a novel in my mind's eye. He just didn't capture the imagination at all.

Wool was always going to be a tough act to follow, and I'm sorry to say that Shift didn't quite meet my expectations. But there are enough teasing unanswered questions for me to remain hopeful that Howey is merely setting the scene for a fantastic finale to the trilogy, with the return of some of my favourite people from the first book. I have Dust loaded on my e-reader and ready to go but I'm not sure when I will take the plunge and read it. I'm reluctant for my time in Howey's world to come to an end!

Many thanks go to Random House who offered a copy for review via Netgalley.

1 comment:

  1. I have not read Wool yet, although my husband has a copy so I will someday. I have experienced the same problem with the middle book (or movie, for that matter) in a trilogy. When I read the second book (Ha'Penny) in the Small Change trilogy by Jo Walton, I was so disappointed that I put off book 3 for a long time. And then I loved the third one. Good review, and honest.