All right, cue the canticles, it’s time for some Halo. If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here.
The Halo franchise got its start in 2001 with the release of the Xbox game, Halo: Combat Evolved. Since then, the franchise has grown dramatically. There are currently eleven games, with another on the way, two live-action series, and dozens upon dozens of books written by various authors.
The book I recently read from this series is titled Halo: New Blood written by Matt Forbeck. While I would love to dive into the lore of this universe, we’re not here to talk about the Master Chief or the Halo Array. New Blood focuses on a different hero from this vast universe, Gunnery Sergeant Edward Buck.
Dropping Feet First Into Hell
Edward Buck is/was an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST) for the United Nations Space Command (UNSC). Better get used to acronyms, as a military Sci-Fi story, there will be a lot of them. ODST’s are some of the most terrifying soldiers the UNSC has in its arsenal because these troopers get into metal pods and drop down from ships in orbit right into battle.
At least, that’s what Buck used to do, now he’s a Spartan, a genetically enhanced super-soldier part of the Spartan IV Program. The difference between Spartans and ODST’s? Spartans make the jump without the drop pod, amongst other things. The Spartans are the best soldiers the UNSC has. So good, in fact, that there is a saying about Spartans: they never die.
(That isn’t really the case, Spartans die all the time. It’s just a bit of UNSC propaganda to help boost morale by always listing dead Spartans as missing in action [MIA]. But that’s beside the point. See how easy it is for me to get off topic with this subject?)
The story focuses on Buck and his team, Alpha-Nine, first introduced in the series in the 2009 game Halo 3: ODST, as they adjust to their new lives as Spartans within the Spartan IV and dealing with new types of combat. Primarily, they begin to wonder about fighting against other humans. The thing is, when all of them signed up, humanity was being attacked by the alien alliance known as the Covenant, which was bent on wiping humanity out entirely.
They view humans as an affront to their religion.
The war lasted for 28 years, and with the Covenant finally fractured and splintered, and humanity no longer at risk of extinction, rebellions that had been placed on hold to deal with the threat of extinction, are popping up throughout human colonies once again. Now soldiers that once fought against aliens, are having to fight against people. Not everyone is okay with that anymore.
It was a lot easier to kill enemies when they didn’t look the same.
Things become even more complicated when the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) gets involved. Think CIA of the future, very shady with little regard for sacrificing lives to achieve a supposed greater good. They’ll tell one team to do one “important” job, but really they are just the distraction for the other team and ONI doesn’t care if that first team lives or dies.
Due to Bucks's complicated relationship with ONI Captain Veronica Dare, he and his team are routinely picked for ONI missions. Veronica knows that she can trust Buck to get the job done. Unfortunately, the questionable morality of these missions wears on the team over time.
The Spartans (What I Liked)
First off, it’s Halo. That’s always fun for me.
Buck is a fun character, in the games, he is voiced by and modeled after Nathan Fillion. He is a strong leader who cares about his teammates and values them and ethics over completing any mission at any cost. Add in wit and sarcasm and you’ve got a really fun character to spend time with.
There’s a reason he’s a fan favorite.
It is fun to get inside Buck’s head and watch as he leads teams into fights. From the outside, he gives the illusion of always having a plan. In reality, he’s making things up as he goes along, and using his years of combat experience to make good decisions with the intent of keeping his team alive. Buck will get the job done, and he’s going to do his damnedest to keep his entire team alive in the process.
Then there is the drama that comes from the Spartan IV program. As Buck and Alpha-Nine undergo the process of becoming Spartans, ONI catches word that there may be a mole from a rebellion group within the program. Captain Dare, trusting Buck and his team, shares this information with them and the group has to keep an eye on their fellow trainees.
Seeing Buck’s relationship with Captain Dare both before and beyond the events of Halo 3: ODST is also fun and interesting. Through flashbacks in this story, we see how the characters met and how they interacted over the years. Their relationship is complicated, to say the least. At the end of the day, they both care deeply about each other, but are also married to their jobs and struggle to part from that.
The Covenant (What I Didn’t Like)
The story structure for this book is a bit like a Russian nesting doll. We start in one place, then flashback, then flashback again, then jump around a bit, then return to the first flashback, and then return to the present. While all the stories are entertaining, it’s a bit confusing and I kind of forgot what the original story was for a while.
Even now, I’m a bit confused about what happened when.
On top of that, there is also the complexity of the Halo universe. Everything is connected. Every game and book affects something. While this is fun, much like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 343 Studios, the company that creates Halo, doesn’t do nearly as good a job at making the universe inviting to new readers or gamers. It often feels like they expect their fans to play every single game and read every book.
I haven’t even done that! There are a lot of books.
Failing to do so can leave you confused as to what their referencing. This book at least does a good job of covering the first introduction of the Buck and Alpha-Nine in Halo 3: ODST. It covers the whole game in about a chapter, so you don’t have to worry about that.
Brothers in Arms
Halo: New Blood is an exciting, albeit slightly confusing, military sci-fi story. I love the Halo franchise and Buck is one of my all-time favorite characters from it so I really enjoyed the book despite its confusing timeline. Reading this book allows you to fight the Covenant, visit exotic new planets, and question the morality of war.
If you are worried about finding a good starting point for the series, don’t be. A lot of the books in the franchise can be broken down into miniseries that focus on specific points within the universe. The best starting point in my opinion would be The Fall of Reach, followed by The Flood, and then First Strike.
The Fall of Reach is the prequel story to the first game and focuses on how the Spartan II’s, primarily the Master Chief, were created. The Flood is a novelization of the first game, Halo: Combat Evolved and does a spectacular job at taking the annoying enemies of the Flood and turning them into something truly terrifying as you witness them first hand. First Strike is the sequel to the first game and explains how the Master Chief gets back to Earth between the first and second games.
Obviously, I’m a little biased when it comes to this franchise. After all, I’ve spent a lot of time in this universe. I enjoyed the book, but recognize that it might not be for everyone. If you are a Halo fan or a fan of military sci-fi, then you should definitely give this book a read.