Book Review | The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey

The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey

Like a lot of people I came to know of Hugh Howey from his Wool series that I was fortunate enough to discover fairly early on in the series. But that luck also cut both ways as I was routinely frustrated at having to wait for the next book to come out.

Since then I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of his other works. This one – The Shell Collector – I had passed by a few times, but with my new Kindle Unlimited subscription I decided to give it a try.

And I’m so glad I did. I’m not normally one to go for romance novels (I’m not sure that’s even the best way to label this one) but this one had the right mix of everything to keep me hooked until the very end. I read a review that described it as “something like an environmental thriller romance with a sci-fi dystopian aftertaste” which is probably as accurate as you can get.


The ocean is dying. The sea is growing warmer and is gradually rising. Seashells have become so rare that collecting them is now a national obsession. Flawless specimens sell like priceless works of art. Families hunt the tideline in the dark of night with flashlights. Crowds gather on beaches at the lowest of tides, hoping to get lucky.

Supreme among these collectors is Ness Wilde, CEO of Ocean Oil. Ness owns many of the best beaches, and he keeps them to himself. It’s his fault the world turned out this way. And I aim to destroy him.

My name is Maya Walsh. You might be familiar with my shelling column in the Times. I was working on a series of pieces about Mr. Wilde, when out of the blue, he called. He says he wants to talk. But I don’t think he’s going to like what I have to say.

So in this one Mister Howey paints another bleak future for mankind though not as apocalyptic as the Wool series. In this future the seas have risen, and the world has flooded with many cities now underwater. Along with this sea life has died out and now seashells have become collector’s items. Much like Tulip Mania in the 17th century the price of these items are astronomical due to the scarcity.

The more perfect the shell, the more prized it is and the higher price it commands. The supreme collector is Ness Wilde, who’s family lineage was also mostly responsible for bringing about the floods.

Maya, a newspaper reporter is invited to visit Ness and stay the week. The FBI is investigating Ness for possible illegal activities, in particular possible counterfeit shells of the highest quality. What starts out with Maya’s obsession to tear down Ness and see him held accountable takes an inevitable turn where we find perhaps Ness isn’t as bad as everything thinks.

Mister Howey’s love of the sea is evident in these pages, with scenes described in such detail as to make you feel you’re right beside Maya and Ness.

TL;DR Version

Very glad I gave this one a go. I enjoyed it immensely. Check out the sample on Amazon.