Saturday, April 05, 2014

Halo: Mortal Dictata Review

In my personal opinion, Karen Traviss' best work is in her Star Wars: Republic Commando novel series.  For those who haven't read it, the series follows the exploits of Omega Squad and their training Sergeant, Kal Skirata, who ultimately becomes their adoptive father.  Kal is opposed to the concept of the clone army the Republic has created for itself and the accelerated aging the clones go through and is bent on freeing his "kids" so they can have normal lives.

There's no question at all that the core themes of this series have found their way into Traviss' latest work, Halo: Mortal Dictata.

Halo: Mortal Dictata is the third and final novel in her Kilo-Five trilogy, and Osman's crew is engaged in tracking down the stolen Covenant CCS-Class Battlecruiser, Pious Inquisitor.  This pursuit has lead them to the insurrectionist world of Venezia where they discovered Naomi-010's father, Staffan Sentzke, in residence and potentially interested in buying the missing ship to pursue a plot of revenge against the UNSC.

When Naomi was abducted years ago to take place in the Spartan-II program and replaced with a clone to fool her parents, Staffan deduced quickly that this wasn't his daughter, yet no one believed him.  After the clone's death, he spent years searching for his real daughter and learned from a rougher crowd how to survive and deal with a corrupt government.  Having no love for the UNSC or Earth, Staffan has spent years working for the insurrection while piecing together what happened to his real daughter.

The character, in truth, bears many similarities to Kal Skirata that while reading the novel I kept picturing him as Kal.  The manerisms, emotions, and strong connection to family all resonate between both identities, and I personally felt this really helped the narrative.

While Traviss explores a tapestry of politics and black ops, both from the perspective of the UNSC and their ONI branch, the insurrection, and even the Jackals, I still personally feel she doesn't have a firm understanding of the species dynamics in the Halo universe, particularly the Brutes.

For example, on Venezia, humans, Brutes, Jackals, and Grunts are living together in the same communities.  While I can see this with the humans, Jackals, and Grunts, as this has occurred before in another novel under plausible circumstances, the Brutes' presence is in complete contrast to how they've always been represented.  The Brutes would not, under any circumstances, live peacefully next to humans.

Same with the Elites.  In the novel, some Brutes are still working for the Elites, which contrasts the return of the Elites and Brutes trying to wipe each other out in the past novel, which in turn corrected the horrible representation of Brutes gardening for Elites in the first novel of the series.  The Kilo-Five trilogy has flip-flopped on its representation of inter-species politics a few times, lacking consistency, and demonstrating a lack of the core specie traits on Traviss' part.

Excluding this discrepancy, however, the novel is a good read unto itself.  The moral line of the Spartan-II program, and the fallout that has on the lives of others, is really explored here in detail.  We also get to see the Jackals and their society and culture brought to the forefront for the second time in franchise history, and that widens up what we can expect from future Halo media.

The core story also really focuses on spy work and infiltration as befitting this branch of ONI.  Large scale battles are out, but back stabbing, plotting, and moral ambiguity are represented in spades, which is another fresh look for the franchise.

The fact that the story also seemed to be a mini, condensed version of Traviss' earlier Star War: Republic Commando work also played a nostalgic cord for me, allowing me to appreciate it as the strongest book in her trilogy.

At the end of the day, the Kilo-Five trilogy is an overall fun read, expanding the core universe and fleshing out some of the back-story for Halo 4.  Any fan of the franchise looking to broaden their scope of the Halo universe will enjoy what Traviss offers here.


Lias444 said...

Thanks for the review. As you have noted, the the representation of various covenant species in this trilogy has not been consistent with that established in the games and other material. I have been particularly frustrated with the representation of Elites, who constantly appear 'out of character' to my mind and often inconsistent with my understanding of the species (especially how easily they're manipulated by humanity). Their relationship with the Brutes (and Jackals for that matter) is almost inexplicable. I must admit, as an avid fan of the Halo universe, these 'shaking of the head' moments greatly lessened my enjoyment of the trilogy. I just hope these inconsistencies aren't translated into the other formats.

Juxtapose said...

Agreed completely.