BOOK REVIEW: Shift Omnibus by Hugh Howey

REVIEW SUMMARY: The sequel trilogy to the best seller, Wool Omnibus, which takes a leap back in time to show how the chaos started.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A silo architect finds out too late what he’s been building, loses track of his wife and memories, and must uncover the secret behind the silo in order to make everything right.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Strong beginning; empathy for major characters; challenging philosophical themes about war and sacrifice to survive as a human race.
CONS: Third Shift (Book Three) slowed the story way down with minor revelations and sparse action.
BOTTOM LINE: While the first half gave hope that this sequel could surpass Wool Omnibus, the story went downhill from there. Shift is still recommended for Wool fans, and it will not kill interest in reading the concluding volume although but it did not meet expectations.

(Spoiler Warning: This review will have spoilers for people who have not read Wool, and only general spoilers for those who have yet to read Shift. Reviews for First Shift: Legacy and Second Shift: Order can be seen at the reviewer’s home page.)

Shift Omnibus is made up of three books, First Shift – Legacy, Second Shift – Order, and Third Shift – Pact.

First Shift – Legacy starts out with a young congressman, Donald, who has aspirations for greatness but finds out that his plans are not what those up the chain-of-command have in store for him. Donald is given the task of building an underground silo — just in case recent nanotechnology development continues to escalate into a world war — and is assigned to work with an old flame from his college days. This old flame flirts just like she always did, and he begins to wonder if she is manipulating events to keep him away from his wife. The race for Donald to figure out what he is really building and how to make sure he doesn’t lose his wife in the process is very exciting and emotional, reminiscent of the turmoil in Wool 1 and even made a few reviewers wonder what this series would have been like had it started with this book. The conclusion of First Shift – Legacy wows as much as it breaks one’s heart.

Second Shift – Order continues to pound a hammer on the heart strings as it further unfolds the mystery of the silos and the over-arching moral dilemma of killing in order to save lives. The revelations mix perfectly with the questions posed about what you would do in Senator Thurman’s situation. The new POV character, a porter named Mission Jones, has a strong character arc of his own that is only slightly less impacting as Donald’s. Here, the author writes a tight plot exploring Mission’s inner struggle of hating to be a burden on anyone.

This book’s inclusion of Mission Jones is an outstanding compliment to the overall plot and thematic question of whether humanity should adapt a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. Mission has a revelation: “Everyone was trying to get to where they didn’t need one another. And how exactly was that supposed to help them all get along?” This is the opposite side to Thurman’s stance that the people inside the silos don’t need the people who were killed above ground in order for their human-race “saving” experiment to be successful.

The conclusion to Mission’s arc is also emotional and surprising. Senator Thurman makes a powerful argument for the establishment and goal of the silos, and it seems like Donald is not going to be able to overcome a system that treats people like numbers instead of integral pieces of a whole.

Third Shift – Pact has an emotional beginning, but stalls as it shows snippets of a young man, Jimmy, growing up alone in a silo post-uprising. While this reader appreciates seeing the origin story of one of the remaining characters in Wool, the frank analysis of his story in this book is that he had twice as much page time as he should have. The discovery of self and finding of a partner in a stray cat were emotionally engaging, but the time spent holed up and then wandering made the end of this book a burden to finish.

Jimmy’s revelation illustrated the point of his story within this omnibus, “Man wasn’t meant to live alone.” This reader just wishes the illustration of that point was more exciting, and maybe a letdown in Donald’s arc contributed to the lack of balance between introspection and intrigue.

Donald’s arc in Third Shift – Pact did not surprise enough to match the excitement of the first two books. It was already clear that he was angry with Thurman and Anna, and so his solution to those problems was only mildly surprising, and a little more disappointing. Donald has gone through a very difficult life, but his decisions in Third Shift went a direction that lessened empathy and support. On top of that, the silo numbers became confusing as far as their relation to the plot’s mystery.

To wrap up, Shift Omnibus took bold strides in expanding the conspiracy inherent in the world of the author’s Silo Saga, but a weak ending stole the momentum and interest established in the first two books. While Wool set this series up to be a lifetime favorite, Shift — and Third Shift specifically — tempered expectations significantly.