Shift and Dust are parts two and three (respectively) in the Silo trilogy. I read and reviewed part one, Wool, in 2013; and about a year ago, met the author, Hugh Howey, when he came to Seattle for a live recording of the Slate Audio Book Club.
I read both last month while on my first real business trip (so fancy, I know) and they’re fantastic airplane reads. Easy to read and absorbing – I had read about 200 pages of Shift when I noticed the plane had started to descend and I thought, “really?! It feels like I just sat down!”
But first, I must warn you: though I tried not to include spoilers for Wool in this review, it’s difficult to review parts two and three in a series with absolutely zero minor spoilers for book one.
As I mentioned in my review of Wool, these books were recommended for readers who liked Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy. While I saw similarities in the first book of each series, I can copy/paste some of what I wrote from my review of book two in regards to Shift:
[This book] begins by doubling back in time … We learn what became of a few characters who had been introduced in the first book but whose stories had yet to be told. There’s a lot of back-story in this story, but finally we move to the crux of the plot, [which picks up where book one left off.]
Dust follows a more linear path to conclude the story, but jumps between the two central storylines. There are a number of loose ends left to tie up in the final part of the story, and Howey addresses all of them, although not every single one comes to a satisfying ending.
What I Liked
As I said in my review of Wool, Howey is a smart writer with incredible attention to detail in this story. The closest comparison I can make is J.K. Rowling – do you remember reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and thinking, “wow, great plot twist,” and then getting to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix or Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and realizing, “that wasn’t a mere plot twist, that was the setup for the entire rest of the series!!”
I would put the silo saga on par with that – even seemingly inconsequential details are intricately woven into the plot. Every time one of these details came up again later in the series, I was excited and delighted to realize that was important all along.
The details also kept me engaged in the story even after I’d finished reading – to give you a specific example, we meet Donald in the near-present-day portion of Shift and he notices the way another character uses his napkin. Later, a third character, Troy, starts using his napkin differently. Later, when I was sitting down to eat and reached for my napkin, it clicked – the napkin was a symbol for the connection between the two characters.
What I Didn’t Like
Howey employs the style of novel writing where every other chapter focuses on a different character’s story. There are three main characters over the course of the silo saga – Juliette, who we met in Wool is only mentioned in Shift and returns as the central character in Dust. Donald, around whom Shift is focused is still an important character in Dust. And Solo, who we met as a secondary character in Wool, becomes a central character in Shift before returning to a secondary role in Dust.
In other words, the story jumps between countless plot threads. I find this particular style of writing frustrating to read because every scene change takes me out of the story to recall what was happening at the end of the last scene change. I give Howey a bit of a pass on this, because it did work to create a world that was big and complex for the story to unfold.
But on that note, I think that for the magnitude of the world in this story, the ending was too small. Honestly, I was left wondering if Howey gave up on it, or if he deliberately wrote a small scale ending, knowing that Kindle Worlds was in the works. Kindle Worlds allows writers to write and (self) publish stories set in the world of existing novels, and the silo saga is one of them. This might be cynical of me to say, but I have to wonder if that influenced the way that Howey concluded his series.
I enjoyed both Shift and Dust – they were quick reads, but thoroughly engaging. I have to say that of the three books in the series, Wool is probably the best, but the later volumes add to the proceedings by telling the back story and reaching a conclusion for the central characters.
As a footnote, I always conclude my book reviews with a link to a reputable source for reviews – preferably Publisher’s Weekly or Library Journal. Perhaps a habit leftover from college writing classes, but it makes me feel like my reviews are more “legit,” because I took the time to peruse the professionals’ reviews. Because Shift and Dust were self-published, neither was reviewed in trade publications. Shift was reviewed by The Guardian; Dust by TeleRead (owned by the National American Publishing Company.)