Karen Traviss (read by Euon Morton)
Tor, 2011 (audio version available from MacMillan or on Audible.com)
Halo: Glasslands is billed, or was when I first came across it, as a bridge between Halo 3 and the upcoming Halo 4. It is also a sequel Eric Nylund’s Ghosts of Onyx (a fact I didn’t know). As a result there are some pretty steep prerequisites for Glasslands name you have played Halo 3 (not unlikely if you are reading a Halo novel) and have read Ghosts of Onyx. A working knowledge of Halo: Reach might also be beneficial. All that being said if you don’t have a strong working knowledge of the Halo universe, past and present, Glasslands is going to be an impenetrable nightmare. I barely match these requirements so this novel was close to a stretch for me.
Penned by Karen Traviss, best known for her work over in the Star Wars Universe, Glasslands follows several apparently disparate plot threads that seem to have little to no connection. Opening after the majority of the events of Halo 3 (the novel actually overlaps with the end cutscene at one point) the novel follows the aftermath of the Covenant war and the battle against the Flood. The Covenant government is in shambles with hardline traditionalists balking against the control of the Arbiter. As things move towards peace it is these traditionalists and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) that seek to keep things off balance. To that end ONI has set up Kilo-Five, a team of ODST troops, a Spartan, and a crafty AI to keep the Covenant government off balance. Meanwhile Catherine Halsey and another team of Spartans are trapped in a “slipspace bubble” (bigger on the inside) crammed with Forerunner technology.
Unfortunately none of these plots really gel together in a meaningful way. While the interruption of one perspective often stymies interest generated by another. In terms of action and excitement the sections featuring Kilo-five are the best. ONI, not the most honorable of institutions, plays some mean tricks to so discord amongst the Covenant while stumbling across the growing disloyalty of the colony world Venezia. In truth this section, when combined with the sections taking place on the Covenent homeworld could, and likely, should have formed an entire novel on its own. The counter perspectives of the ONI team and the Covenent makes for tense reading and some twisty plotting that, at its best, head me on the edge of my seat. Unfortunately the impact, and forward progress, of these sections is torpedoed by the sections featuring Halsey and company trapped on Onyx.
If you had told me that the exploration of a new world full of ancient and mysterious technology could be boring I’d have probably laughed at you. Not so much anymore. This section of the novel drags. Nothing happens for pages and pages while the to leading character bicker over past mistakes. The exploration of the shield world doesn’t intersect with the other part of the novel until late and, in what I think is a boneheaded move, completely derails everything that was happening in those sections of the novel. What could have been an interesting and exciting novel of politics and espionage is instead rendered impotent by what feels like an editorial fiat.
That being said this is the first novel of trilogy that from my understanding will lead into Halo 4. Assuming I’m correct (Halo 4 will supposedly be released sometime this year) I’ll likely be back for the remainder. I grew quite attached to Kilo-five and I still hold out that we will see a return to to their actions early in the novel. Thankfully, on audio this is a bit smoother thanks to Euon Morton’s splendid reading of the novel. Is it weird that I often judge a male narrator by his ability to handle female voices? Well I have no qualms when I say, and I mean it as a heartfelt compliment, that Euon Morton easily sells his ability to sound like a woman…or at least a female character. In particularly both Morton and Traviss’s work with the folks of Kilo-five that comes off as the most distinct and the most endearing to me as a reader. Glassalnds feels like two novels (or a novel and a short story) jammed together for no apparent reason. Hardcore Halo fans are the only people I can really recommend this novel this novel. Here’s hoping for a more consistent quality improves in future novels.