I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
Like I said in my review of the movie based on this book, I've never played any of the Halo games. I got this because I'd heard that the franchise has some good AI-human interaction. Starting with the first Halo novel seemed like the best way to go.
This book covers the origins of the Master Chief, the series protagonist. Dr. Catherine Halsey selected John for the SPARTAN-II program when he was only 6 years old, arranging for him and many other children to be kidnapped from their homes and put through intense training and brutal modifications. It's all hugely unethical, but the end result is something humanity turns out to sorely need: a group of super soldiers known as the Spartans, of which John-117 is the best. Their first mission pits them against human rebels, but it's not long before they find themselves fighting a much deadlier enemy, mysterious aliens known as the Covenant.
I really wanted to love this book, but unfortunately it never really gelled for me. Nylund cared a lot about things I didn't, and didn't care much about things I did. As a result, there was a lot of jargon-heavy space and ground warfare, and not much focus on characters as people with relationships and feelings. Dr. Halsey felt some guilt about what she put the children through, but her focus was on her larger mission. John was upset when his fellow Spartans died, but his focus, too, was on his mission. Character emotions and deaths rarely had much impact. I barely felt a pang when characters I'd basically known for hundreds of pages died, because they were more like collections of combat skills than people.
I also would have liked more and meatier AI scenes. Cortana was the most interesting of the bunch and she, sadly, didn't show up until the last third of the book. I was a little peeved that the very first reasons Cortana gave Dr. Halsey for choosing John as her Spartan all had something to do with his looks and general attractiveness (it was also a bit weird because Cortana was essentially Dr. Halsey, and Dr. Halsey was sort of John's mother figure). However, I still liked her overall. I would have loved to see more of her and John learning to work together.
Which brings me to another issue I had: the pacing was kind of choppy. It felt like Nylund spent ages on John's first few years in the SPARTAN-II program. Then I was briefly confused as the Spartans were sent after rebels who were never mentioned again and who turned out to be little more than combat practice. The Covenant swooped in, and suddenly everything became periods of nothing much, with sprinkles of foreshadowing, followed by long, intense battles I wasn't always able to follow. I didn't mind the ground warfare scenes, but the space scenes were kind of boring, and I'm pretty sure there were more of them.
I was usually able to understand what was going on fairly well, despite not being very familiar with the franchise, but I still felt like there were areas where newbies were at a disadvantage. For example, Nylund's descriptions were terrible. Here's what he said about the Grunts: “They reminded the Chief of biped dogs, not only in appearance, but because their speech – even with the new translation software – was an odd combination of high-pitched squeaks, guttural barks, and growls.” (15) So I googled Grunts and got a bunch of pictures of things that looked like some kind of squat, bipedal cross between a turtle and maybe a shark. Even seeing them in action via YouTube videos didn't make me think “biped dog.”
Although this didn't work for me, I'm not writing off the books just yet. Partly because I have several of them sitting in my TBR, and partly because there's always a chance that a different author or different storyline will give me more of the stuff I'm really interested in. Like more and better AI scenes, for starters. Crossing my fingers.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)