Matt Forbeck writes dialogue that sounds just like the Halo games. He even thanks; “Nathan Fillion, Tricia Helfner, Jennifer Hale, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham…and all the rest of the actors who breathed video-game life into so many of the characters who populate this book. I loved having your voices rattle around in my head.”
I reviewed the previous book in this series, New Blood, that centers on Edward Buck, an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper who becomes a super-soldier through the Spartan IV program. As Halo fans know, the Spartan II program took children and made them into Super Soldiers like the famous Master Chief. The Spartan IV program takes veteran soldiers and puts them into the same process popularized by Captain America to become something more than human. It’s less terrible and produces more human-like super-humans. While the children who became Spartan II’s have personalities focused on military duties that support the UNSC (United Nation Space Command) with the help of ONI (the secretive and Machiavellian Office of Naval Intelligence) the Spartan IV’s actually have families, love interests and a wide spectrum of political views.
In the previous book ODST Edward Buck meets and falls in love with ONI agent Veronica Dare. In this book their relationship is put to the test as he must lead a team of soldiers, one who previously pointed a gun at him and became a member of a human rebel force, for a secretive mission. In most Halo games and books the UNSC chafes against the ONI. They are soldiers being put in harms way for the very noble reason to protect humanity, but they are ordered into engaging in morally ambiguous actions for the secretive ONI.
This is a common trope of much military science fiction. Where the exciting combat occurs because of bad politics and even worse motives by those who secretly pull the levers of power. What makes this book good is the well-constructed dialogue. The debates between Mickey Crespo, a Spartan IV who sympathizes with human rebels and the “just getter’ dun” Edward Buck are a joy to read.
The different thing about this book is the overarching conflict. In previous games and books a fractured humanity must come together to fight a religious collective of aliens called the Covenant. In this book the Covenant was defeated and now the very Artificial Intelligences that helped humanity win the war are now waging a war of conquest on their former master.
After all, since humanity can’t seem to even get along with themselves wouldn’t it make sense that the artificial problem solvers they created now see their makers as the problem? It is this issue that drives much of the overarching conflict but doesn’t drive the plot. This plot concerns how humans and superhumans must learn to get along to overcome a common threat. In the Halo Universe there are more than an abundance of threats, but more importantly there is an abundance of heroes with complex personalities that can make for good books like this.