Thursday, 13 June 2013

A prequel and a sequel | Shift by Hugh Howey and Long Live the King by Fay Weldon

I’ve been catching up with a few series lately. Two very different books, one a sci-fi thriller; the other a 1900s historical novel. Two more testimonies to what an excellent book year 2013 is.

Moderate spoiler alert. 
Shift is the prequel to Wool, part of the Silo War trilogy by Hugh Howey. In Wool, we followed Juliet who lives in an underground silo that she and the other inhabitants believe to be the whole world. As the plot unravels, we learn that there are more silos, and Juliet realises that someone put them in the silos for a purpose. In Shift we learn some of the purpose. At the beginning of the book, we follow the congressman Donald who came into power through the support of his governor friend Thurman. When Thurman approaches Donald to help him with a top secret project, Donald realises that this is why he helped him be elected. The project involves Donald making architectural plans for an alleged emergency underground building connected to an atomic waste facility. But as Donald learns more and more about the project, and Thurman gives him a book to read, Donald starts suspecting that something is not right about the project. When Donald’s wife accuses him of paranoia, Donald decides to go on anti-depressants to suppress his worries. When the project is finalised, Thurman has organised a great convention at the site, and at the great unveiling, Donald finds himself separated from his wife, and in the company of Thurman’s daughter Anna, who harbours a barely concealed love for him The events of this day is to forever alter the course of Donald’s life. The deep end awaits.

Interspersed between the chapters chronicling Donald’s “life”, we also follow the lives of different people in different silos at different times. In silo one, we follow Troy, who is awoken for his first shift. Troy is fed pills to forget the traumas of his past, but Troy still struggles with ghosts of memories, and in an act of defiance, he secretly stops taking his pills. Troy’s shift is to last 6 months, and during this time, he’s pretty much in charge. His main responsibility is to ensure that everything runs smoothly in the other silos. Unfortunately for Troy, unrest is breaking out in one of the silos, and it’s his job to deal with it.
In silo 18, trouble is brewing. We follow young Mission, who has rebelled against his father’s farming life to be a courier. A lifetime of schooling by the Crow, and old lady who tells them Oldworld stories has encouraged the new generation to dream of something more. But a great division is starting to ruin the harmony that once existed in the silo. And Mission overnight finds himself in the middle of an outright war. Meanwhile, in silo 1, Troy makes a decision that will change the course of history.
To avoid revealing too much, we follow Troy on two more shifts, each about 100 years apart. Each time Troy has to face the consequences of his decisions from his first shift. And each time, there is a serious crisis in one of the other silos. Troy begins a determined search to recover his memory of the past, and to understand what their real purpose is. And this mysterious Thaw Man, what does he know?

As a prequel, Shift is excellent. Once more, Howey proves that he is a master at twists, and every door opens new hidden panels, so to speak. In Shift we get a different perspective on the events of Wool, which adds a whole new dimension to the reading experience. In Wool my objection was that the latter part of the book seemed a bit drawn out. In Shift I have no such objection. Intertwining the different stories, of Donald vs. Troy’s awakening, of Troy’s different shifts vs. the personal experiences of the people in the troubled silos provides great pace and suspense. This is conspiracy theory and sci-fi thriller brilliantly fused. I simply cannot wait for the final installation Dust which is due for release later this year. 

 Now to the very different Long Live the King, book two in the Love and Inheritance Trilogy by Fey Weldon. We pick up soon after the first book Habits of the House left off. Lady Isobel is stressing about some extra invitations for the royal coronation. The four tickets they have already will naturally go to herself, her husband Lord Robert, their son Arthur and his wife Minnie. The three spare tickets are a real head ache, as Isobel doesn’t want her headstrong daughter Rosina to put off the whole event with her intelligent talk and strong opinions. Nor does she want her husband’s lowborn solicitor Eric Baum and his wife Naomi to get the tickets. In a moment of irritation with her husband, she sends the tickets to her husband’s alienated brother, a strict clergyman with no taste for lavish, vain affairs.

On the brother’s side, he not surprisingly asks his wife to throw away these heinous invitations. Their blooming daughter Adela is left to wonder at these relatives of hers she’s never met, but who always sends her Christmas gifts her father denies her to keep. When a fire kills the priest and his wife, Adela is suddenly left alone in this world, and by chance, a bishop and his wife takes her in. Due to his hatred for his brother, Lord Robert refuses to take her in, and because Adela might be a princess, Lady Isobel prefers not to push the issue. She has enough higher ladies to contend with when she goes to court, let alone in her own home.

Meanwhile, Adela’s old servant Ivy and her boyfriend George are planning their future. George is determined that they can make a good life through mysticism, which is all the rage in these days. However, they still need to find the perfect actress to really convince an audience. Adela’s ethereal beauty makes her perfect for the job. Adela on her side has been worn down into accepting a proposal by a Buddhist visionary Australian who she finds quite repulsive, while still fantasising about George who happened to save her from the fire that killed her parents, so she is quite likely to welcome this new opportunity. And seeing as none of the Dilbernes have seen fit to invite her to join their family, Adela jumps at the chance.

In the middle of all the drama, Isobel finds herself once again jealous of her husband, while Minnie adapts to her new position. Still a spinster, Rosina has pretty much resigned herself to her fate, but faith seems to smile at her this time around.

Although still sharp, I find that Weldon is a bit easier on her characters this time around. In Habits of the House Weldon quite openly mocked her characters, whereas here she sympathises a bit more. It’s still funny though, and the vices of the different people are really illuminated in an entertaining way, while we still get the interesting historical backdrop to the plot. I look forward to more elegant plotting from Weldon in the final installation of this trilogy.

So, two amazing but different books that I thoroughly enjoyed. If only there were more hours in the day, so that I had more time to read!

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