Guys this book has a prequel. I am so happy about it. Why? Because I was having a really hard time finding books for "A book and its prequel" for my reading challenge, and this fits the bill! This was originally going to be my "A science-fiction novel" selection, but I'm shifting it over to the book-and-prequel category (along with Shift, the second book/prequel) and I'll put something else in the sci-fi category, maybe The Windup Girl or maybe The Three-Body Problem. I haven't quite decided. Either way, I'm super psyched because I was going to end up reading Wizard's First Rule and The First Confessor for the book-and-prequel pairing, but I really didn't want to embark on a super-long series like the Sword of Truth is, so I'm very happy that an alternative just happened to present itself to me. Whew!
So, on to the actual review. I read a Hugh Howey book last year, Sand, and absolutely loved it. And I really liked Wool was well. I think Howey has a knack for writing post-apocalyptic scenarios. In Sand, it was a world where water had mostly dried up and people went diving in the deserts that had taken over North America to find what was down there, all the while wondering what was causing the distant booms they could hear--booms that creeped me out more than I think was called for because sometimes you can hear distant booms from my apartment. Yikes! (The booms I can hear are the guns at Fort Myer, Virginia.) In Wool, what exactly happened is a little up in the air, but I'm thinking it's a pretty safe bet it has to do with a nuclear apocalypse. In the wake of whatever catastrophe it was, humanity--or what was left of it--went underground, living in a massive silo. The outside is absolutely toxic, and it is a death sentence to step beyond the silo bounds, and so when someone commits a crime, they are sentenced to clean: to go outside and clean off the cameras that show the people of the silo the outside world. Even though they can't go outside the silo, they are obsessed with the view, and cleanings are cause for both dread (for those who have to do them, and those who love them) and joy (for the people excited for the restoration of the view). The book starts out with Holston, the sheriff of the silo, who is sentenced to clean himself because he expresses a desire to go outside. His wife did the same thing three years before, and Holston is finally following her. It's an absolutely stunning beginning to the book, and it definitely compelled me to keep reading.
Holston, however, is not our main character. Our "main" character, if one can be determined because there's a little bit of an ensemble cast running about here, is Jules, a mechanic who was born in the middle levels of the silo but moved to the "down-deep" to work on the machinery that keeps the silo running. She's selected to be Holston's successor, and it soon becomes clear to her and those who surround her that something is very rotten at the silo's heart, and what they've been told isn't necessarily what is true.
It's clear to us as reader's what going on from a very early time in the book, and watching the characters figure it out and survive is interesting. The "dead" silo was an absolutely fascinating part of the story, and I think it was my favorite. I wasn't so sure about the romance plot that Howey inserted; I like the characters on their own and don't think a romantic plot was really necessary in order to compel each of them to action. I wanted to know more about the world outside and how it go there, and was a bit disappointed that information wasn't included, but that was before I realized that there was a prequel, so hopefully that will fill in some of the blanks for me. The chapters I found the least interesting in this book were honestly the ones about the uprising, because I mean, it was an uprising. I could kind of figure how that was going. I wanted more focus on Jules and less on secondary characters, except Walker, because Walker was awesome. His chapters were great and I think depicting the uprising from just his limited view would have been a really interesting way to go.
One final, quick note: there's a lot of chatter about the title of this book, because Wool does seem like a silly title. Obviously the cleaners use steel wool to clean off the cameras that monitor the world beyond the silo, but I prefer to think of it in the metaphorical sense (and I'm sure I'm not the first and only one to do this) of the silo residents having had the "wool pulled over their eyes" in regards to what their world and lives are really like. In that way, I think it's a fitting title and I'm perfectly fine with it, though there were certainly other good options out there.
Overall, a great sci-fi book but not one of my absolute favorites. I do think Sand was a bit better, maybe because it was more self-contained and had a sweeping sense of scale and majesty that Wool, because of its space constraints, didn't. 4 stars out of 5.