Halo: Glasslands (Novel) Reviewby Adam Dileva
Being the huge Halo fan that I am, it's only natural that I already own all the corresponding novels as well. Truth be told, I've only completely read through a few of them. This is because I was unable to really enjoy them previously due to their militaristic jargon and nature. I think this is why I really enjoyed Glasslands though, because the author, Karen Traviss, who's known for the Gears of War novels and some Star Wars fiction as well, is now telling the story that unfolds in Glasslands that happens to take place around the same time as Halo 3 is ending.
I'm going to assume you know a good detail of Halo lore, as why else would you be getting the book other than to supplement your thirst for all things Halo, or a gift for someone that is a Halo fan such as myself. This isn't a story about Master Chief (although he's mentioned time to time), it's more about the growth of supporting characters and a story about what else is happening across the galaxy during the events of Halo 3.
Glasslands picks up right where the novel Ghosts of Onyx left off; Mendez, Halsey, and a handful of Spartan II's and III's are trapped in the remains of the exploded planet Onyx. They find themselves trapped in a panic room-like world that was designed by the Forerunners to protect themselves should the Halo array be fired, thus killing all sentient life in the universe. It was built as a safe haven for Forerunners to seek refuge should the worst case scenario happen.
As Glasslands takes place during Halo 3, it also presses on the unstable relationships between Humans and Covenant as that war as 'ended'. A team known as Kilo-Five is formed by director Admiral Parangosky, a leader that no one would trifle with and demands respect. This team is headed by Captain Serin Osman, a failed candidate for the Spartan II program due to her body rejecting the required augments, Naomi, a Spartan II herself, three Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODST) who I found to be mostly unmemorable aside from their banter between each other, an AI named Black Box (BB for short) who's mocking comments will make you giggle as he manifests himself as a box instead of a human like Cortana does, and lastly, a civilian named Evan Phillips who specialized and is fluent in the Sangheili (Elite) language and acts as a translator. Their mission is an important one, and as I don't want to spoil any plot points, this mission will intertwine with the Arbiter in some form.
The most interesting story within for me is the one revolving around Lucy. She finds herself lost from the rest of the team and must figure out where she is and how to get back to them by herself. She happens across a few Huragok's (Engineers), one of which seems to befriend her and help despite what she has done (again, I'm trying to keep this spoiler free, so excuse the vagueness). Lucy's inability to speak (she's able to but hasn't for a long time for specific reasons) makes communicating with the Huragok's an interesting one. All Engineers care about is fixing and improving things, and they even try to fix her, but can't figure out why she still can't vocalize her thoughts. I found this section incredibly interesting and the conclusion for Lucy's part was satisfying as well.
A large portion of the book is about the moral consequences surrounding the Spartan II program and much depth is given behind Dr. Catherine Halsey's motives and reasoning. It's a very controversial subject, as Spartans are essentially stolen from their families at the age of six and thrown into a regiment of training and augmentations that make them the incredible armored soldiers that they are. There's also a surprisingly deep look into the Sangheili culture as well, not just the Arbiter, but the race as a whole, their ideals, and what they are supposed to do without the Prophets' false lies leading them any longer. You almost feel pity for a whole race that seems to have no direction or leadership as they try and figure out their place now that the Human and Covenant war is 'over'.
I really enjoyed learning the proper terminology for all the different races and that they were referred to as such for the most part. Sangheili are known to humans as Elites, Kig-Yar are Jackals, Unggoy the Grunts, and Huragok's being the Engineers. Not only are the names and references themselves interesting, but Glasslands even delves into their own sub-culture, such as how the Jackals are scavengers and usually can't be trusted. AI's like Black Box and Cortana are discussed, and you even learn what the Engineers name themselves; Prone to Drift, Requires Adjustment, Effortlessly Buoyant. It's also quite odd at first to hear Arbiter being referred to by his real name, Thel'Vadam, but paints a better picture of the culture when it's the Sangheili referring to him, as it paints a picture of the Elites that we might not ever think about.
The novel starts off very slow, and if you don't know the events of Onyx, it's also very confusing to begin with. Each chapter will bounce around from one group of people to the next, but as you get about half way in, events really start to unfold and it becomes much harder to put the book down, as you'll really want to find out what happens (like the Lucy sub story for me). At times I wish I could have read one 'part' fully at a time, but I understand that the timeline wouldn't make sense if I did so. I really enjoyed Lucy's solo story and learning more about the Elite's from their perspective.
As I said before, this novel has nothing to do with Master Chief himself, but rather it deepens the depth of the supporting characters that surround the other events of the war. There are some easter eggs that the hardcore fans will pick up on and is a fantastic read as soon as the events start to unfold and you're familiar with each of the characters. Those like myself that found it difficult to really get into the previous Halo novels, give Glasslands a chance as I found I vastly enjoyed her writing more so than the previous authors. I'm excited to see Traviss' follow-up novels as Glasslands is absolutely worth the purchase for any Halo fan wanting to learn more about the lore and its universe.