Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Book Review - Halo: Hunters in the Dark

By Peter David
Publisher: Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

Halo is great. I'm a huge fan of Halo and have consumed quite a considerable amount between the games, books, comics and films. But I can see now that Halo has been so successful it has fallen into the trap of being contributed to by more and more authors and the quality, as with any mass production, must therefore go down from time to time.

In a nutshell Hunters in the Dark revolves around a team of humans and elites going to the Ark (from the 3rd Halo game) to try and stop a countdown that has begun and will result in all of the Halo rings firing, wiping out all life in the galaxy. Therefore the portal that is on Earth, that was used by the Master Chief, is re-activated and the team head off and much adventuring ensues. That's the main premise and it's not a bad one, fitting nicely with what we already know about Halo.

Unfortunately Peter David wrote it.

Peter David is an author I really enjoyed as a teenager. But his work is one of those things that I look back on now and realise that I simply wasn't able to tell a good book from a bad one at that age. He uses lines like 'in a voice that sounded as if it came from beyond the grave' in an attempt to add flair to simple dialogue. Good authors don't do that. Or, if they do, they use something that at least makes sense and isn't quite so hyperbolic.

This doesn't feel like a necessary book (as Fall of Reach did) but very much has the air of something that was churned out with the Halo name on it for no greater reason than to take my money. This book neither complements the larger Halo universe or seems like it will in future. It does, however, feel like a Halo product (which is more than can be said for the backstreet abortion that was Halo: Nightfall). The setting feels authentic and the characters feel like Halo characters, albeit exceedingly two-dimensional ones.

Regarding characters; the human ones are much more poorly presented than the Elites. The humans say and do things that leave me thinking 'no they wouldn't'. Or they suddenly comprehend things that they have no reason to. Or they are able to do things that frankly requires such specialist training to achieve at the standard being described that I'm left thinking 'nonsense'. Such as being able to speak to a Huragok flawlessly in their own language which, for those not initiated into the lore of Halo, revolves around sign language using their multiple tentacles. This strikes me as about as likely as talking to a chameleon by changing your colour. Which I know isn't why chameleons change colour but you get my point. The Elites, on the other hand, come across well and are not given any abilities that seem out of keeping with their traditions, training and culture. Aside from the gunnery officer being an A-class medic able to fix human bodies that have sustained massive trauma. Which is especially strange given that Elites shun medical treatment for themselves, let alone others. The book makes this point but I don't think the author pointing out that something doesn't make sense is a suitable way to address the fact that it doesn't make sense.

Sadly there's the usual B-movie quality sub-plots that you might expect from a tie-in novel like this, revolving around old feuds and missing family members that (Surprise!) turn up later in the book. There's also the way the book moves on at a rollicking pace as though it had to keep to some kind of time limit. And the action lacks the authenticity that Karen Traviss brings to her works, no doubt informed by her background as a defence correspondent during her time as a journalist.

Looking for positives; the cover art is absolutely brilliant. That can't be denied. And the Monitor on the Ark, called Tragic Solitude, is an engaging presence that I enjoyed reading and learning his thoughts and perspectives. His dialogue with, what I suppose, is the lead female protagonist, Olympia Vale, is for me one of the highlights of the book. His time stuck alone for 100,000 years on the Ark have left him with some interesting ideas on what needs doing to the galaxy and why.

But overall this book felt like a slog to finish it and I'm still not really sure why it's called Hunters in the Dark. I think this book will seem like a great read to younger audiences (my 15 year old self would have loved this) and people who just can't get enough Halo of any quality will, presumably given those criteria, find it an enjoyable read. But I personally found it an unnecessary tie-in with generally weak characters, unsatisfying action and too many implausibilities.