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A shift in perspective

Shift (Volume 2 of the Silo Saga) by Hugh Howey (Random House, $29.99)
Reviewed by Fiona O’Kane

ShiftAfter thoroughly enjoying Hugh Howey’s Wool , I eagerly launched straight into the second book of the Silo Saga: Shift. Although the publishers call it a prequel, technically it’s not: it has a longer timeline, with its events occurring before, during and after the events of Wool.

As a quick recap, the story of Wool follows the inhabitants of a great underground building called a silo. Completely sealed, it was built long ago to protect the people within from the toxic environment above. A carefully managed society has survived in this environment by following strictly enforced rules, and banishment outside is literally a death sentence. As the story unravels, just who is running things, and how, is gradually revealed.

Shift builds upon some of the startling discoveries in Wool, and sheds some light on the people who established the silo system – and why.

After the revelations of the first book, numerous questions arise. What’s outside, beyond what you can see from the window in the cafeteria, and past those poisonous hills? What happened to the environment to make the air so toxic? Is it ever going to get better up top, or is life underground the only hope left for humanity? Just who’s taking the call on the other end of the secret radio, anyway?

Howey again takes his time to establish the line of the narrative, slowly revealing who the key players are and what part they’ve played so far. Unlike Wool, which stuck to a fairly linear timeline, Shift flashes back and forward, painting a revelatory picture of how things unfolded. It’s an effect used masterfully throughout, and helps to really cement the fear, despair, and occasional desperate flicker of hope felt by the central characters.

We’re initially introduced to a new group of silo dwellers who try to make the best of the situations they find themselves in. Most of these have had their predicaments thrust upon them, after decisions made by others, but what sort of people made those choices? Did they view themselves as visionary and benevolent? Would the people on the sharp end of those choices feel that way if they knew the full story? These questions and more are the crux of Shift and many additional questions are raised – many of which draw uncomfortable parallels to real-world headlines.

Howey also delicately shows a different side to some of the stories we first read in Wool, by telling them from a different perspective. If you’re a fan of “aha!” moments in narrative, you’ll be well served by Shift.

Is it as good as Wool? Yes, but in a different way. Again, the story sets the scene, going slowly until you start to figure out what’s going on. Again, the characters and settings are well described, helping to establish the feelings experienced within such a cramped and limited environment. Wool seemed more confined overall, as if it were really contained within the stifling walls of the silo, with the limited resources that implies. Shift, on the other hand, shows a view of the bigger world by pulling upwards slowly and revealing the wider topography, which gets more startling the higher up you get.

With Dust (Book 3) set to release later this year, the scene has well and truly been set for an epic conclusion to the series.