Any fan of Halo knows the story of Reach whether it from the game of the same name or from information gleaned over the years. It does relay the events of the fall of reach but the book contains so much more. This novel is all about the Spartan program from inception to completion, it’s the story of how the war with the covenant began and it tells us all about the legendary Master Chief.
For those who’ve played the Halo games you know the story is very good and it evokes a feeling that there’s a larger complex universe in which the characters live. There’s always a sense that there’s more going on than you realise. Still for all its story Halo is a shooter with a great deal of focus on the multiplayer so how far will the story take us? Can it hold up to scrutiny and expansion? Luckily for all of us the answer is yes.
Eric Nylund has squeezed a vast amount of information into the book and it comes across very naturally as the story is told in a logical chronological way. It moves from character to character giving us glimpses of different parts of the world to help build up a picture of events. The fall of reach is perhaps why most would come to this book but by far that’s not the most interesting part. All the pre-covenant war parts of the book are incredibly interesting as gives a glimpse of a vast human civilization spread out across space as the only known intelligent life. Though even this pales in comparison to the details the book gives about the Spartan project.
We all know that Spartans are a kind of advanced super soldier created to fight the good fight, what isn’t really known is how they were created. I don’t want to give away all the details of the book but there are some things that made me pause for thought. Really I was impressed at how much the book made me think about the ethics involved in Spartan creation and if the actions of Dr Halsey, the lead scientist on the project, were actually deplorable. Granted the Spartans were needed to fight the covenant threat but at the time of inception there was no Covenant.
I would’ve liked Fall of Reach to delve into the moral aspects of the story a little more; to be fair the characters question their own actions at certain points and come up with some good reasons but it’s limited. I feel like the book relies too much on the appearance of the Covenant to vindicate their methods rather than having the characters try to grapple with those issues themselves.
To be fair a few of the children involved in the Spartan program show signs of embracing what they’ve been chosen for with Master Chief adapting the quickest. From an early age the book shows him as a great hero and the best of all the Spartans and, though his character has great physical and tactical prowess from the start, he goes through a very effective emotional journey that makes you respect him all the more. Following John, Master Chief, from a child up until he becomes an adult, and getting a peek inside his mind, makes him more human and more relatable than the video games ever managed to achieve. This is a strength of the novel, brining new depth to the game’s protagonist, but it’s also a weakness. In Halo Master Chief is a larger than life character, a god among men, a powerful force to be reckoned with. Giving him a real name, telling us his past and letting the reader inside his head dispels all mystery and it’s hard to decide it that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
I’ve mentioned once before that the actual Fall of Reach isn’t the best part of the novel and yet it is still vastly interesting to read. The game Halo: Reach focuses on Noble team, which is never mentioned in the book. There are some inconsistencies between the two portrayals but neither denies the other’s existence. This version of events is told from Master Chief’s perspective as he attempts to stop the covenant gaining the location of Earth from a ship’s NAV computer. This involves many other Spartans and is a truly suspense filled mission. In fact the only real question is why Bungie didn’t base their game on these events rather than creating a whole new cast of characters, perhaps they just wanted to do something new? It’s hard to tell. Regardless the eventual fall itself is quite poignant and, though I won’t spoil specific details, there are numerous deaths of characters you’ve come to care about. I really can’t stress enough how effective the end of the Fall of Reach is.
Going in to this book I was more than a little sceptical, I love the game and franchise as a whole but how well would it translate to prose? Bungie’s crafted an intricate, well thought out, vast universe that is ripe for storytelling. The Fall of Reach is a solid novel with great characters, universal themes, emotional weight and very interesting events. A good book for anyone to read but an essential piece of mythos that’s a must read for the true Halo fan.