Saturday, December 01, 2012
Halo: The Thursday War Review
When I received my copy of Halo: The Thursday War, I admit that I had very strong reservations about it. For those unaware, it's the second novel in Karen Traviss' Kilo-Five trilogy, and the first novel, Halo: Glasslands, was one I did not enjoy at all (reviewed here). Halo: Glasslands just got so much wrong, taking established canon and established characters and changing them for no reason at all, that I personally found the whole novel rather frustrating.
Not only was I disappointed with Halo: Glasslands, but many fans were as well, and a huge discussion thread appeared on the official Halo Forums debating it. I don't know if Traviss and 343 Industries took all the fan criticism to heart or if the plot development of Halo: The Thursday War was already planned out, but I'm relieved to say it's a significant improvement.
Picking up where Halo: Glasslands left off, Osman and the rest of Kilo-Five race back to Sangheilios to rescue Philips who's caught up in the beginning of the Sangheili Civil War. I'm very happy to say the Brute Gardeners rebel right in the first chapter and are dealt with, forcing Avu Med 'Telcam to move against the Arbiter prematurely. This grants ONI an opportunity to further manipulate events in their favour and provides Philips with the means to explore some Forerunner ruins with implications that lead into the story of Halo 4.
Meanwhile on Trevelyan, the renamed Forerunner Shield World once known as Onyx, an ONI scientist continues to study Jul 'Mdama, who himself searches for a way to escape the artificial world so he can warn his people about the human's manipulation.
The two primary locations in the book, Sangheilios and Trevelyan, feature very different tones as one deals with gritty war and combat while the other is all veiled calm and quasi religious reverence, but both focus heavily on Forerunner details and foreshadow much of the Didact and his role in Halo 4. On Trevelyan we also get to learn some very interesting new facts about the Huragok, which I personally found quite interesting.
We also get to read about the Infinity's maiden voyage, and see what it can really do as a ship built to dominate against the best the Covenant has to offer. We get to learn about the weapons it has, the Forerunner enhancements the ship has over other vessels in the UNSC fleet (both by design and bu addition courtesy of the Huragok), and the impact the vessel makes immediately on intergalactic politics.
Since Halo: Glasslands is published and canon, not everything can be changed or corrected in Halo: The Thursday War, but the novel is laid out in such a way to minimize the errors of the previous novel. For example, the Spartan-II's and Spartan-III's are completely absent, as is Chief Mendez, which is a very good thing as their lack of presence means the characters can't be changed any further. Established characters like Admiral Hood and the Arbiter are featured, however the former was never hugely developed in previous works (novels or games) and Traviss gets to really flesh him out and make him that much more real. The Arbiter is mentioned significantly but only appears sparingly, which I feel was a very smart move.
Traviss' core strength, in my opinion, has always been character development (not to make light of her military expertise), and she works best with new characters or ones she's created or guided from the beginning. Halo: The Thursday War plays up on that, whether it's the strong dynamic between the members of Kilo-Five to the back and forth between Parangosky and Hood, there's a lot of action in both the literal and figurative sense.
Having said that though, in recent years I've found she tends to get a bit too repetitive with character's empathy towards one another. One strong example from the novel would be Naomi-010's feelings dealing with the fact that her father is an insurrectionist, and while it's important and quite essential to explore this character dynamic, the nail gets hit on the head far too often. We know it's hard and that she finds it difficult to deal with but keeps her real feelings bottled up, and we know the other members of Kilo-Five find it hard in general and for her, but really, we don't need to be told or reminded as often as we do.
Despite that though, I must say that I did enjoy Halo: The Thursday War. It's not the strongest novel for the franchise and not Traviss' best work, but it's leaps and bounds beyond its predecessor and that gives me a great sense of optimism for the next novel in the series. If it improves over Halo: The Thursday War as much as Halo: The Thursday War did over Halo: Glasslands, then we'll be in for one heck of a treat. The novel leaves lots of very interesting questions to be answered, and I am looking forward to see just how things wrap up.