“If the lies don't kill you the truth will” is the cover blurb for Wool, and it couldn't be more accurate. Howey's written a dark dystopia where mankind has lived in a (?) silo underground for times unknown. The cameras surveying the outside shows dead and barren grounds with grey skies and no life. And those who express a wish to venture out into the toxic outside, gets their wish – their last wish. To keep order, anyone overly interested in the outside are sent to “cleaning”, which is basically a death sentence. But they somehow dutifully perform the task of cleaning the camera lenses before crashing dead to the ground.
In the beginning of the novel we follow two people from the “up top”, the silo's sheriff, and then the mayor. The silo spirals down down down from level 1, past the powerful IT on level 30, all the way to mechanics on level 140. Here lives Juliette, who one day finds her life literally turned upside down when she is headhunted for the position of sheriff for the silo. But once she accepts the job, Juliette finds herself in a power struggle with Bernard, head of IT. As people around her start dying one by one, it becomes clear that Juliette has become tangled up in something much much deeper than she could ever imagine.
I don't want to give too much of the plot away, so I'm stopping my plot account here. What I really loved about the novel was how it kept twisting and turning. You literally never knew what was around the next corner. As mentioned above, we initially follow two other people, and we think the story will evolve around them, but then it changes completely. The mysteries of the book, and the silo, are revealed little by little, always to horrifying effect. Howey kept surprising me over and over. We learn the truths alongside our protagonists, and as a thriller the novel works really well. Howey excells at building tension and is a master at revealing the secrets morsel by morsel.
I haven't read sci-fi in a long time, so maybe I'm wrong, but Howey is also unusual in having a kick-ass female hero. Juliette is the Chuck Norris of heroines. Having worked as a mechanic for years and years, she can deal with pretty much any practical problem, and she surprisingly also has brains and beauty to boot. Juliette doesn't sit down and cry, waiting to be rescued. Juliette does the rescuing. So awesome.
The title is also quite fun. Wool as a symbol refers to a range of things in the novel, but the most important one comes from the saying “pulling the wool over their eyes”. Without revealing anything, I'll stick to saying that most of the people in the silo are being kept in the dark about pretty much everything. Another wool motif is the wool the cleaners use to clean the camera lenses. The whole ceremony of cleaning is also another way of pulling the wool over the people's eyes.
We also have a direct example of someone knitting: “After much deliberation, Mayor Jahns selected a pair of needles. She always chose carefully, for proper gauge was critical. Too small a needle, and the knitting would prove difficult, the resulting sweater too tight and constricting. Too large a needle, on the other hand, would create a garment full of large holes. The knitting would remain loose. One would be able to see straight through it.” (p. 45). I think this passage reveals a lot about the silo and the fine balance the people in power are walking. It also suggests a great deal about the story as a whole, but it makes more sense after reading the book.
The first half of the book is definitely the strongest. Some passages feel dragged out and unnecessarily detailed in the latter part. There are still shocking revelations, and I have to admit I wasn't able to predict the end, so it's still really worth reading. After finishing the book I read the interview with Howey in the back of the book and learned that Wool is the first book in a trilogy. The second book Shift is already available, and the preview at the back of the book made me quite curious to find out more. It's seems like Howey is ready to thicken the plot even further and make the dystopia a notch darker. Bring it!