Oh look, another Halo article on this blog. Yeah, well, deal with it 🙂
Today, I’m doing something a bit different: a book review! Here are my thoughts on Halo: The Thursday War as a book, and also as a tie-in to the Halo games and other canon.
Halo: The Thursday War is written by Karen Traviss (Who also writes Gears of War and Star Wars books) and is the second book in the Kilo-Five series. I didn’t write the book review for book one in the series, so here’s a quick overview to lead into The Thursday War. In Halo: Glasslands, Admiral Margaret Parangosky assembles a team consisting of her personal prodigy, 3 ODSTs, a Spartan, an alien language professor, and an AI. She tasks this team, dubbed Kilo-Five, with creating infighting on the Elite home planet, called Sanghelios. The Covenant has recently fallen apart, and the Elites are back to square one in terms of military strength and agricultural sustainability. They divide into two basic factions: those who seek a peace treaty with Earth, led by the Arbiter, and those who see humans as a threat that must be exterminated, led by Avu Med ‘Telcam. Secretly, the Kilo-Five team finds ways to help and harm both sides of the civil war in order toe further weaken the Elites, in hopes that they will become so weak they can’t be a threat to Earth.
Long story short, at the end of Glasslands, the Spartan in Kilo-Five (Naomi) finds out her father is a leader of the human rebels, and the alien language professor, (Evan Phillips) who is studying on the Elites’ home planet during the civil war, is caught in an explosion that kills his communication with the rest of Kilo-Five. Furthermore, an Elite named ‘Jul Mdama is captured and taken to Onyx, which has been turned into a research facility. Kilo-Five has to go back to Sanghelios in the middle of a civil war in order to rescue Phillips. Phillips has gathered an invaluable amount of information concerning the Halo rings and the Forerunner race, so it’s pertinent that Kilo-Five rescue him before it’s too late. The Elite civil war is escalating, and the poop is hitting the fan in many different directions at the end of Halo: Glasslands.
Halo: The Thursday war takes a multi-sided approach to storytelling. A section of the book will follow ‘Jul Mdama’s storyline, another portion will check in on Phillips, while another portion tells about the rest of Kilo-Five, and so on. Karen Traviss does a great job at tying all the pieces together and creating a story that isn’t nearly as confusing as it sounds. Re-telling a story written in that fashion, however, can be quite difficult, but I’ll do my best.
Kilo-Five is tasked with heading back to Sanghelios to save Phillips, and things are a bit tricky to maneuver. Kilo-Five has been arming the rebels led by ‘Telcam while the rest of the UNSC tries to establish a peace treaty with the Arbiter, who is on the other side of the civil war. Like walking on a tightrope, Kilo-Five must tread carefully as not to expose their plans to the Elites; this makes extracting Phillips complicated, as humans are generally despised by many ordinary residents of Sanghelios.
Kilo-Five luckily obtains permission to land a crew of humans to rescue Phillips, and the search begins. They start by checking out the temple where Phillips was studying Forerunner artifacts and inscriptions on walls (much like Egyptian hieroglyphics). They would have found Phillips there if it weren’t for the fact that he mistakenly/purposely activated a portal which dropped him about 80 kilometers away from the temple. Even the AI can’t detect Phillip’s location, so the team heads back to their ship to regroup and try a new tactic.
Using some thermal imaging, the AI is able to locate Phillips’ location, and Kilo-Five heads back to the surface to keep looking. They find that Phillips has made his way to an Elite keep (read: home) which is coming under attack. After an explosive, “that’s-not-how-it’s-supposed-to-happen” exfil, Kilo-Five is able to rescue Phillips from the keep, which is coming under attack by enemy forces.
At this point, the brand new, untested, six kilometer long UNSC Infinity shows up to help the Arbiter. They shoot down some rebel ships, which is in stark contrast to the fact that Kilo-Five was arming the rebels. It’s a multi-sided battle in which the humans are on both sides. Sound confusing? That’s because it is; that’s exactly what Admiral Parangosky wanted from the entire mission. This is what’s keeping the Elites at bay.
In the end, Kilo-Five leaves Sanghelios to head to the planet Venezia. Venezia is an interesting planet, to say the least. It’s inhabited by Jackals, rebel humans, Brutes, and others; it’s a sort of outlaw community, and that’s where Naomi’s father is living because he’s an anti-Earth terrorist. Naomi and one of the ODST’s of Kilo-Five land on Venezia at the end of Glasslands, but we won’t know what happens during their visit until the final book releases next year.
But wait, what about ‘Jul Mdama? He’s an integral part of the book and the entire Halo universe, as it turns out. As he’s held prisoner on Onyx, he tries to devise an escape plan; he dearly misses his wife and needs to get back to Sanghelios to be with her. He gains the trust of the head of research on Onyx, and they allow him to explore the planet as long as he wears an explosive harness. They tell him they’ll detonate it if he tries to escape, and their recon drones keep an eye on him constantly. He soon activates a portal which dumps him on an Elite colony world. He then convinces the keep elder there to give him access to a radio, which he uses to contact his home keep. Alas, his wife, Raia, died in the civil war; she was on a warship searching the planet for ‘Jul.
Enraged, ‘Jul vows to exact revenge on the humans, as he’s completely convinced they killed her, even though he doesn’t really know because he hasn’t even been home in weeks. Using information he gathered on Onyx, paired with the information given to him by the keep elder on the colony world, he thinks he has deduced the location of the Didact. Yes, ‘Jul Mdama believes he has found Requiem, and he knows that if he gets there, he will either a) awaken the Didact, who hates humans with a passion, if the ancient lore is true, or b) find a cache of Forerunner weapons or technology. Either way, he’ll be able to wipe out a bunch of humans.
Here’s where my inference skills come in. In Halo 4, the Covenant on Requiem are a splinter faction that managed to group together because of their hatred for humans. I bet that their leader is ‘Jul Mdama; I think he actually reunites some Covenant species, and I think that he probably does find Requiem. Thus, ‘Jul Mdama is actually (I think) a very important part of Halo 4; he got there before Master Chief did, and thus Halo 4 unfolds.
That’s the story, as condensed as I can get it. It fits in very well with the Halo canon; I definitely feel that reading these books help to understand the games better. For example, I know think I know why the events of Halo 4 even occured, and that makes it worth my time.
As an author, Traviss does a great job at helping us understand characters more. For example, she gives us a look at the more humane side of Elites. We see them as killing machines, but the truth is, they have families that they love and care for too. Naomi, the Spartan in the story, is beginning to lose her unbreakable Spartan facade because she learns about her father’s existence; something most Spartans don’t know. She is confused and distraught because her father hates Earth because of a conspiracy theory; he accurately concludes that the government stole his daughter, as crazy as it sounds. Now, she’s not sure how to feel about her dad; we learn that Spartans aren’t as emotionless as rocks.
Traviss also explains why Phillips’ mission was so important, and how it relates to Halo 4. Long story short, he learns of the Didact’s existence; the humans never before knew there was a Didact. He also learns about Forerunner coordinates; he seems to have found locations of Halo rings. In Halo 4, new rings are discovered, and I’ll bet it’s due to Phillips’ research.
The great thing about Halo: The Thursday War is the humanity of it. Karen Traviss not only helps us to understand the Halo story better, but she also allows us to see that all the characters have feelings too, simply put. From the ODSTs, to the Elites, to the Spartans, to the AI; all show genuine emotion which allows the reader to better grasp it all when playing the game. These characters aren’t going to war as killing machines with emotionless minds and motives. They all want to get home to their families, or they want to be with friends or live normal lives. I like seeing this side to the previously rock-solid characters Halo has traditionally given.