This novel set in the HALO universe, combines science fiction, space opera and a detective story. It starts on the planet Gao with Inspector Veta Lopis looking into a some murders that occurred in the Montero Caves. She is hampered by the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) who is conducting their own investigations into a strange series of events where people who enter the caves only to come out healed of various afflictions and without any memory of how.
The murders are being handled by the local authorities, who resent the UNSC. The UNSC does not do itself any favors by keeping their own investigation secret. This is increasingly difficult for the dogged Veta Lopis because the murders look like something only the enhanced UNSC soldiers, called “Spartans” could accomplish.
In the hands of another author this book would probably be a mish-mash of mixed up plots, but it’s written by veteran author Troy Denning who got his start writing for pen and paper role-playing games, specifically Dungeons & Dragons back when it was done by TSR. He went on to write novelizations of the Dungeons & Dragon’s Universe with books like Waterdeep. Denning has also written thirteen books for the Star Wars Universe.
Denning bridges the role playing game novels to this video game novel by doing what he does best, tying important game characters to plots that grow out of the universe. The HALO game franchise combines many elements that make it popular; a human galactic military government with secrets about their Spartan super-soldiers, the tension between this military government of the inner colonies and the rebelling humanity in their outer colonies, an interstellar war with a theocratic alien empire called the Covenant that draws humanity back together and ancient technological ring worlds called Halo, that hold galactic destructive power.
This story takes place after humanity has broken apart the alliance of theocratic aliens of the Covenant and are now dealing with their original problem, how to live with themselves. This is what leads to the beginning tension between the UNSC and the local government of Gao.
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Gao is an outer-colony world, which has a very pro-autonomy rebel faction, funded secretly by a local official named Arno. Arno works to blame much of the recent events on the UNSC so as to overthrow his more pragmatic President Aponte. This puts the Inspector Veta under both political and personal pressure as she tries to work between two power factions; both hiding needed information from the other, both with agendas that trump the simple solving of a murder.
This inter-human rivalry is mirrored by a sub-plot of inter-alien rivalry where splinters of the formerly theocratic empire are fighting to regain what is left of their ancient technology, deep under Gao’s surface. This secret, which involves two alien Artificial Intelligences, one manipulative and the other beneficial, make for complications that play out below Goa’s surface, on Goa’s surface and in orbit.
As if that is not enough, the plot becomes baroque with the adding of Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), a secretive faction within the UNSC, that HALO fans will easily recognize. The ONI keeps secrets about the Spartans and their fragile amped up warrior psyches. Secrets that would lead to casting more suspicion on them.
If you like byzantine politics matched with a mystery in the HALO universe this is worth the money. HALO contains all these things and Troy Denning did a good job writing up a story that combines them all.