Dust picks up where Shift left off. It is now clear that the status quo cannot be maintained, at least in Silo 18. Solo and Juliette are re-united as tragedy unfolds around them. The path to sustainable survival is uncertain. Meanwhile in Silo 1, Charlotte and Donny wrestle with trying to help Juliette over sporadic radio links and under constant threat.
Despite having some issues with pacing, this is a satisfying conclusion to the series. It is nowhere near as ponderous as Shift since there is more actually happening to replace the overlong internal monologues. The narrative moves towards a conclusion that, if not a happy ending for all, at least gives hope for the future.
Like Wool, the second volume in the Silo series started as a set of linked novelettes. The narrative begins hundreds of years before the events in Wool, with Donald, a newly elected US Representative, being brought onto the Silo project. This is before the apocalyptic events leading to the occupation of the silos, and gives background on how it all came to be. Donald is an unwilling accomplice in the control of the subsidiary silos as he slowly realizes how he, and the entire complex, has been manipulated, with conspiracy nested inside conspiracy aimed at a mysterious goal. Another section deals with how Solo from Wool came to be alone in his dying silo for decades.
While Wool was, despite its dark setting, a story of hope and searching for a better future, Shift contains very few bright points. The parts about Solo and his solitary descent into quasi-madness are especially bleak. Donald struggles with his conscience, his desire for revenge, his realization that even knowing the truth is not going to make things better. While the mental battles were well written, I felt that this book could have been trimmed to make it a bit less of a slog at times.
Certainly impressive for a first novel, In Conquest Born details the struggle between Anzha and Zatar, prime representatives of their endlessly warring nations. The structure of the novel is unusual, as every chapter is somewhat like a short story in itself, often with different narrators, viewpoints and styles. The advantage is that exposition can be made from several angles. The disadvantage is a certain feeling of disjointedness as the device weakens the motivation to find out what happens next.
The narrative is epic with regards to time, space, and character development. The characterization is masterful indeed. Friedman goes on a deep dive into the conflicting cultures of the novel, especially the secretive Braxaná. This is, in fact, more a story of people than of technology. Few scenes have more than two or three characters, and we are treated to a well written exposé of the workings of the mind. It is very far from hard SF. While it could be called Space Opera, I would define it a psychological SF story.
Friedman proves that she can write a very complex novel without leaving the reader hopelessly confused. For that she definitely deserves credit. I enjoyed this odd semi-classic, despite the fact that it was a slog at times. At the end was the reward. The surprise ending made everything clear, tying up the many many tangents.