Review: The Stranded (Wool #5) by Hugh Howey


13425846Title: 
The Stranded (Wool#5)

Author: Hugh Howey

Rating: 5 star

Publisher: Broad Reach

Format: Electronic (Kindle)

Silo eighteen is at war. The mechanics have retreated to the lower depths of the silo and the mayor is willing to use lethal force to spare the few. He has entrusted Lukas with all of the secrets of the silo and expects him to execute the silo’s protocol regardless of the consequence.

Juliette, our fearless heroine, has found that she is not alone in neighboring silo seventeen. The lower levels are flooded and there is danger in her midst. Against impossible odds, she must save silo seventeen, stop the war in silo eighteen, and stay alive in the process. Meanwhile, her love interest, Lukas, must ultimately decide where his loyalties lie.

The Stranded was the perfect conclusion to the series. There were many unexpected twists and the action was packed onto every page. We learn so much in this volume — how deep the silos go, how many there are, and why they were designed in the first place. Howey has constructed an interesting world that was not at all like I suspected — one that leaves continual mysteries, even after the series is completed. More answers will likely be told in the prequel trilogy (Wool 6-8), but enough information has been shared to paint a complete picture.

I particularly like the way Howey is able to build the action up and resolve minor conflicts without it being a diversion to the overall story arc. Juliette has many tasks that all contribute to her welfare — draining silo seventeen’s flood, investigating an attack, and resolving the conflict in silo 18. She is abused by what befalls her, but she is tough and each time methodically pieces through her dilemmas. She needs no punk rock hairdo or martial arts expertise to be a cool heroine and is able to fulfill her role by her character alone. This is refreshing for genre fiction, where female protagonists are often devolved into mannish behavior and a gritty disposition.

Wool has been a delight to read and I will most definitely be continuing the series with the next installments. The first volume is free and I would recommend this series to anyone looking for a great adventure.

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Review of The Unraveling (Wool #4) by Hugh Howey

13314945Title: The Unraveling (Wool#4)

Author: Hugh Howey

Rating: 5 star

Publisher: Broad Reach

Format: Electronic (Kindle)

The self-published serial sensation continues in the fourth book with the exile of silo eighteen’s sheriff, Juliette, to the toxic outer world. Her hazmat suit, unlike most suits, is equipped with materials that can withstand the radiation that plagues the landscape. This will buy her some time, but sooner or later she will run out of air.

Meanwhile, Juliette’s new love interest, Lukas, has become a shadow to the silo’s new mayor and begins to learn some of the secrets and protocols of the silo. This information becomes critical as there are some characters from Supply that want to expose the silo’s conspiracy and aren’t afraid of spilling blood in the process.

The Unraveling is by far my favorite Wool story to date. It is a continuation of book three, but we finally get to see beyond the subterranean walls of the silo into the world at large. Juliette is a protagonist we can cheer for — she is courageous and resourceful, determined against all odds to survive. Her love interest, Lukas, provides for an interesting twist as we see him involved with conflicting loyalties.

Told from three viewpoints, The Unraveling begins a shift from episodic fiction to a true serial format. As Juliette moves beyond silo eighteen, the story becomes more epic in nature with yet more characters being introduced. We gain a better understanding of the strategy in the silo designs and the psychological factors that accompany them. There is lots of action and the chapters leave you unable to set the book down. I eagerly await finishing this story arc with book five.

Review of Casting Off (Wool #3) by Hugh Howey

Wool3Title: Casting Off (Wool#3)

Author: Hugh Howey

Rating: 5 star

Publisher: Broad Reach

Format: Electronic (Kindle)

(Note: minor spoilers below)

The self-published serial sensation continues in the third book with a new sheriff in town. Juliette has been recruited from the depths of the silo to serve as sheriff of the subterranean city. Before she can become acclimated to her new role, she finds herself on the case of investigating the death of Mayor Marnes. She also becomes intrigued with the previous sheriff’s decision to step outside of the silo, bringing certain death due to the toxic wasteland that occupies the outer world.

In the midst of her investigation, Marnes’s deputy commits suicide, apparently over a broken heart from his friend’s (lover’s?) assassination. But there seems something is afoul. There’s a conspiracy brewing in the IT department and it has something to do with an 8×2 inch viewing screen. Can Juliette uphold the law and get to the bottom of this conspiracy or will she suffer the same fate as the Mayor, the deputy, or the previous sheriff?

After a slight letdown of the second Wool book, Casting Off comes back with a fantastic episode. I am really not aware of anything else like this series in fiction. It is different from a television series of episodes in that no character’s life is safe. Already we have the three main characters from the first Wool book killed off. Moderate time spans occur through each of these novellas, giving the reader a fast-moving plot with a sense of wonder and uniqueness.

The third book was good in many respects. It dug deeper into the broad conspiracy taking place in Silo 18, it brought emotion and a little romance to the underground dwelling, and ultimately left the reader with a new understanding of who is in control in the vast political network in this post-apocalyptic dystopia.

Juliette’s character was portrayed very well and I loved the moment where she was able to share a moment with an amateur astronomer as they looked up through the toxic cloud sky and spot a lone star shimmering. It was symbolic in terms of hope that people could form new relationships again after a devastating disaster and that perhaps, one day, the air would clear and they could lie beneath a cloudless sky and gaze out at the expanse of stars.

Hugh Howey pulled off another great book in the series and like many other readers, he has me completely hooked.

Review: Proper Gauge (Wool #2) by Hugh Howey

wool2Title: Proper Gauge (Wool#2)

Author: Hugh Howey

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Broad Reach

Format: Electronic (Kindle)

The first book in the Wool series follows the underground city’s sheriff as he contemplates and finally decides to exile himself to the potentially toxic, post-apocalyptic world. In book two, Mayor Jahns and her deputy, Marnes, climb deep into the depths of their silo city to seek a new and promising recruit for sheriff to replace Holston. Descending over a hundred floors down leads them to discover that things aren’t as they thought and there is a threat that is growing in power and authority.

The second book, while twice as long as its predecessor, is still a short one (barely exceeding 100 pages). But don’t be deterred — its length suits the story well. In Proper Gauge, we gain a much better sense of the world in which the citizens live and the political workings within it. The story is slower paced than the first book, but still full of intrigue and emerging conflict.

Howey has embraced the electronic model of publishing, a form of media that can take advantage of serial, short-lengthed fiction. Like an episode of the television show, Lost, the reader longs to understand more about the silo cities. Why are they built so deep? How do they survive? How does the society remain stable? And like the show, each story ends with a kicker — a cliff hanger of sorts, answering some questions, but leaving more ahead.

The second story, while enjoyable and well written at its core, is somewhat of a bridge novella, enriching the world and introducing new characters, but falling short in delivering an overall conflict-climax-resolution that was more evident in the first book. But it was still a delight to read and I look forward to reading the rest of the series with enthusiasm.

Review: Wool, #1 by Hugh Howey

Wool1Title: Wool, #1

Author: Hugh Howey

Rating: 

Publisher: Broad Reach

Format: Electronic (Kindle)

I am late to the game in discovering Hugh Howey’s Wool series. The premise is that in a post-apocalyptic future, citizens live in a silo that extends many levels below the earth. Their only interaction with the outside world is through a camera that overlooks the decayed landscape.

The first volume is the shortest, with a word count that categorizes it as a novelette (~12k words). The story is straight-forward. Holston, the sheriff of the underground city, spends years watching criminals and willful participants climb the grated steel steps to the outside world. Their death sentence serves an even higher motive than justice — to clean the dust and grime off of the camera lens before succumbing to the toxic air.

Holston cringes when his wife, Allison, utters the binding and fateful words, “I want to go outside.” It’s not a passing thought to make such a statement, but a legal contract of sorts, and her utterance places her in the queue to die, cleaning the camera lens. As Holston argues with her, he learns that she has become absolutely convinced that their worldview is a farce — that the outside world is no longer toxic and that a march up the fateful steps is actually a march to freedom. She has evidence to prove it and is convinced she will see Holston there one day. Three years after her death (escape?) is where this story takes place and Holston contemplates climbing these steps, not knowing what result it will bring.

This story (and the following series) has gotten glowing reviews. I will say that they are justified — to a point. What you shouldn’t expect with Wool is a literary masterpiece or a story that transcends the current trend of dystopian fiction. In many ways this is just another post-apocalyptic novel. What you get in the first volume is a gripping narrative that hooks the reader from beginning to end. Each word and each page are devoured to answer one question — is the outside world deadly or not? There are a few characters that we begin to learn and appreciate, some of which continue into the subsequent series.

The title of the series, for which there is no better name, is taken from steel wool, which is used by the criminals in their penetrable HAZMAT suits to clean the lens. The first story is really just a hook for the following books in the series. It answers one big question, but leaves many more remaining. It is a good story in its own right and accomplished with me just what it is intended to do — get the reader to go buy additional books (#1-5 are collected in an omnibus edition). It took me less than a minute to do so.

For those who enjoy dystopian fiction or have a curiosity for the psychology and political interaction of people when they are thrown into desperate situations, this is the book for you. Hey, the first book is free, so give it a shot. But I must warn you — you likely won’t stop there.