By Hugh Howey (Century, RRP $30)
They say you should never judge a book by its cover and I thought I'd been tripped up by doing just that with Wool.
With my recent rediscovery of the joys of knitting, I was taken by the title of this novel, and a quick read of the back cover revealed a scant but enticing tale of a deadly outside world where every birth required a death.
I added it to the top of my "to be read" pile, so I could start on it as soon as I wrapped up reading one of James Patterson's recent offerings.
Then I read a little about Wool online, where there were comparisons drawn between it and Fifty Shades of Grey.
Oh dear, it very nearly put me off the book all together. However, I'm pleased to say that upon further investigation, there were no similarities to the mediocre writing (I'm being kind with the use of the word mediocre) but actually related to the fact that this was initially self-published and became a runaway success for the author.
Phew, that was a relief. And for the many Fifty Shades fans out there (and yes, I know there are a lot of you), I did try to read the first book in the series but it was so badly written that I gave up after the third chapter and knitted a cardigan instead. It was one shade of green.
But I digress. I'm so glad I didn't let the Fifty Shades thing put me off because this is a cracker of a story. Set in the future, a ruined landscape has reduced the habitable world to a compound populated by people who accept the life presented to them. Most of the time.
They live in a giant underground silo, where screens show a view of the inhospitable outside, filled with its toxic atmosphere and not much else.
There are rules they must live by, secrets they must keep and lies they must never uncover.
But sometimes they don't follow those rules, and sometimes they question those lies.
For breaking the rules, there is a punishment: cleaning. The rule-breakers are sent out of the silo, into the toxic outside world, to scrub the screens with wool so those inside can see the awful outside world. And no-one survives in the toxic atmosphere outside.
The story begins with the silo's sheriff, Holston, mourning his wife, who was sent for cleaning, Holston also decides to follow her into the outside world and a certain death. From here the story goes from interesting to compelling.
Aside from the futuristic angst, this is also an old-fashioned love story and given the fact I'm not always a fan of love stories, I was surprised by just how well this one hooked me.
What started as a 60-page self- published novella has grown to a 500-plus page bestseller, so ignore the write-ups proclaiming this to be a sci-fi version of Fifty Shades and prepare to be enthralled.