This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.
The omnibus edition collects what were five separately published parts into one complete volume. I'm glad that I waited as if I had to read each of these parts individually I would've been frustrated. While part one would've been fine as a standalone, parts two through four ended with cliffhangers and so much of the overall story unresolved that I would've felt I'd been played. That's not to say that I didn't like Wool, quite the opposite. From a publishing perspective (and Howey was still indie back then), it's a risky move. You either leave readers clamoring for more (and you'd better deliver!) or you alienate them for selling a story piecemeal.
The first three parts are told from the perspective of a single character (barring the final chapter of part three). And it works. It serves as an introduction to the Silo and what life is like for those living there. Too many POVs might've proved overwhelming for the reader. By focusing on individual storylines, the reader is slowly acclimated to this world that Howey has created. But events transpire in part three that necessitated multiple POVs for parts four and five.
Part one is Holston's tale. A widower, he pines for his recently departed wife and can no longer bear to live without her. He introduces us to the Silo, a massive underground structure where humanity lives after some apocalyptic catastrophe. His actions serve as a preamble for what's to come.
Part two is Mayor Jahns' tale. She's escorted by Deputy Marnes as they journey through the Silo to interview the next sheriff. Besides learning her story, we learn more details about the Silo: It comprises 140 levels, each level serves some function to maintaining life here, and it has its own unique set of politics.
Part three deals with Juliette Nichols, the newly appointed sheriff. Having worked down in Mechanical for a couple of decades, she's not used to dealing with the politics that comes with her new job. She doesn't realize it at first, but she's been stepping on toes since long before becoming sheriff. The head of a rival department is stepping in to fill a power vacuum, and he doesn't like her. The feeling is mutual. As she strives to solve the mystery behind a couple of deaths, she uncovers a secret that threatens to throw the entire Silo into chaos.
Howey does a great job getting the reader to like these characters. You learn so much about them that you can't help but bond with them. They seem familiar, despite their circumstances. Even the antagonist was well drawn for a bad guy. He wasn't wholly evil, just convinced that he knew what was best for the Silo and control must be maintained by any means necessary (a common belief that has led to the downfall of many leaders).
Parts four and five deal with the fallout of Juliette's discovery. All does not go according to the antagonist's plan, and thus contingency plans are put in place to deal with these events. Sinister secrets are revealed, and the nefarious origins of the Silo are dredged up. Two factions struggle for control of the Silo, but one side has a strategic advantage that is unknown to the population at large: It has always been in control.
The ending gave me a bit of a surprise, but I liked it. All in all, it made for a highly entertaining read. Engaging characters, post-apocalyptic setting, secrets to be discovered, decent plot resolution. I can see why it was such a hit. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it was made into a TV series. 4 out of 5 stars.