Quick! What's your favorite book? Everyone's answer will be different, from The Art of War to Jurassic Park to the infamous 10000 word essay on the mating habits of migratory birds written by our own Max. However, if you ask Halo fans this question, many of their answers will be the same: Halo: First Strike.

As the third book in the popular Halo (a video game these novels are based on, and one of the focuses of this website) series of novels, it encompassed everything wanted in a sequel. More action, more story, more interaction with everyone's favorite Spartan (the main characters of these novels), and more 'science' than you can shake a stick at, but not enough to scare off newcomers, and, of course, answers. This made First Strike a stellar science fiction novel, even outside of the Halo universe. Unfortunately, Eric Nylund's next book, Halo: Ghosts of Onyx (Goo) fails in every single one of these aspects.

The book starts off in a familiar fashion, like the first book, retelling a mission the Spartans had been on. It introduces a new character...well, 300 new characters, while incorporating no old ones, and it dizzies the reader with new facts and information. Fine, for a first novel in a series, but for a sequel, very tough to follow. It tells of a massacre of what we expect to be Spartan IIIs, almost 300 of them. Once the reader gets past that assault of information, it's on to more familiar ground: Spartan 117, John, and his team winning over insurmountable odds, in a similar retelling of a mission.

After this, however, it's all new territory, at least until halfway through the novel. Kurt, the Spartan II introduced in the second retelling, becomes the main character, and the reader follows his actions after being kidnapped by ONI to train the Spartan IIIs. A stock character, Kurt is an everyman, trying to do what is best for his trainees, but also trying to preserve them in a greedy fashion. The reader meets dozens of new characters, and some old ones which had never been intimately known, but as soon as these people arrive, they disappear, with only two people being constant, Kurt and a character from the first third of the very first novel, Chief Mendez.

In this fashion, the book reads very much like a fan fiction, typographical errors and all, with so many needless code words and capitalized phrases it feels like a Pokemon game, every NOUN and ITEM capitalized as if they were all ACRONYMS for some sort of more COMPLICATED DEVICE.

Moreover, this first half merely seems like a device to give backstory, not to tell one. Indeed, it is, taking place almost entirely before events in Halo: First Strike. The whole time, I was wondering when Nylund would get back to telling the real story, of the Master Chief, Spartan 117, or of Earth between the events of First Strike (FS) and Halo 2, or even of the events of Halo 2. Nylund, however, gave all of that a miss, and completely assumed that the reader had played Halo 2 and had no questions concerning the events in between FS and the game. Not bad, I guess, at least I get to hear more about the Master Chief and the artificial intelligence Cortana, right?

Wrong. The second half of the book almost completely ignores the hero of the Halo series, only alluding to his troubles and mentioning his informal name, John, a few times. We once again meet Dr. Halsey and Kelly, who we know from a previous book, and we find out why Halsey had kidnapped the Spartan Kelly, literally the only answer we get to a question raised in the video games and books not already surmised by the intelligent Halo fan base. They make their way to Onyx, the training ground Kurt is on with his Spartan IIIs. Dr. Halsey morphs herself into a treacherous new character, different than the super intelligent mother figure we've come to know her as, and she requests Spartan backup to Onyx.

Then, to our relief, we're reintroduced to another familiar character, perhaps the only one besides the Master Chief we'd be comfortable spending a whole book with, Fred. Unfortunately, we get about 40 pages with him, as he runs to help Dr. Halsey at Onyx. We then promptly switch back over to Kurt, where he excercises his command over our friends from former books, leaving the reader with a "Who the hell does this asshole think he is?" feeling.

The Spartans fight together against forerunner sentinals and Covenant warriors alike, and they eventually get to the core of Onyx, revealing secrets and typical battle sequences we know from the first three books. While still pleasurable, the book tries to go for a perfect record, and, in the style of everything else, manages to screw these up, though only slightly. There's always a lot of stuff going on in these battles, and they're a little tough to follow, but they're still fun to read.

This good part of the book ends with Kurt dying. This guy we spent the whole book not liking too much, disliking, then learning to tolerate again, just died, wasting all our emotions, and, effectively, our time. Fred, Halsey, Mendez, Kelly, and the other survivors escape into a 'shield' for the 'reclaimers', and the story ends with them starting to recon the area, not a cliffhanger, not a classic ending, but certainly a fitting one. Nylund has essentially prepared us to not see them again, but later, if they show up, we won't be too surprised.

I've spent most of this review bashing the book, so I don't want anyone to get me wrong. It's a good book. Honest. It just doesn't measure up to the standard set by the other books in the series, except for Halo: The Flood, which it surpasses in almost all areas (especially continuity). To liken it to video games, which the readers of this site understand well, Goo was supposed to be Halo Book 4, when it really just turned out to be Halo Book 4: Expansion pack, leaving a whole section of story missing, and then adding a side story to that.

With Goo containing typos, way too many new things, not enough old things, and a bad main character, it really does bring down the authors overall writing skill. The story is contstructed well, the writing is good, and the action sequences are fun, but these things don't make the reader forget about the shortcomings of the book, and the betrayal I felt as a Halo, and therefore Spartan 117, fan.

Writing: 9/10
Story: 8/10
Characters: 5/10
Novelty: 6/10 (How cool the book is)
Reader Enjoyment: 7/10 (How good I felt while reading the book)
Aftertaste: 4/10 (How I felt after reading the book)

Overall: 7/10 (How I feel it was overall)

Bottom line: A good, fun book, I suggest it to all Halo fans who have played Halo 2, but to be wary that it's not like the other ones. I suggest the Halo series to all science fiction fans, but to not include this book in it, at least not yet.
• Halo - Ghosts of Onyx review - 20061031.164400 - funkmon


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