I’ve never really known what was going on in Halo. I played Halo 3 a lot, it was at that perfect time in my life where everyone I knew had an Xbox 360 and we spent ages playing the multiplayer and running through the campaign. However, I couldn’t tell you what it was about. I also have distinct memories about the first Halo game but only as far as the first mission and driving through a tunnel. After that, it is a complete blank. Cut to many (far too many, don’t think about it Nevi) years later, on a whim I decided to pick up The Fall of Reach. This book delves into the history of the Spartan programme, how Master Chief was created and is the prelude to the original game, and I thought it was pretty good.
Let’s get this out of the way, The Fall of Reach is not a literary masterpiece, it is never going to win any awards, it is fine military sci-fi that serves the purpose of introducing the world of Halo and giving us a backstory to its most important characters. It isn’t amazing but it’s not terrible and if you have any interest in the setting or games, that might be enough for you to stop reading and grab yourself a copy. If you want more, I will drop a spoiler warning here and explain a little further.
The book opens with Master Chief, John, as a child at school on a distant planet. He is quickly recruited into the Spartan programme and the first part of the story follows his training and moulding into the hero we recognise. This part of the book is, personally, my favourite. The reason the Spartan programme exists is interesting and the clear moral ambiguity and internal conflict by all the characters around John gives the history of Master Chief intriguing darkness.
Once Master Chief has finished his training, the Covenant attack and the human worlds are thrown into chaos. We get some exciting action scenes of Master Chief and his other Spartans tackling this alien threat and the book does an excellent job in showing just how dangerous and technologically superior they are. This lends itself to some great underdog moments across both space battles and on the ground firefights. There are losses, characters that we saw grow up in the Spartan programme die and you feel their loss. One of the best things The Fall of Reach does is make you feel the weight of each of these loses and personalise the behemoths that are are the Spartans.
Once we arrive at the climactic fall of Reach (no points for guessing that was where the book was going to end up), we’ve seen a lot of what both factions can offer but not everything we know from the games. For example, we haven’t properly seen the Elites in action or fully-fledged Mjolnir armour and the final battle delivers on all these promises. It is suitably epic with massive fleets throwing lasers and missiles at each other alongside a ground assault where the Spartans can show their mettle.
My issues with The Fall of Reach is that Master Chief is incredibly boring and is barely a character. He ends up basically as a tool that the navy point in a direction and give him an order, which I get is sort of the point and with all the childhood indoctrination he’s gone through that makes sense. However, he is our main point of view for the book and rarely shows any kind of emotion or feels like he is in any kind of danger. The book goes to great lengths to establish Master Chief as ‘lucky’ and that it is one of his greatest assets. Rather than feeling like he is lucky like a character such as Matt from The Wheel of Time where luck plays an integral role in his character (and he actually has a character), Master Chief’s luck acts more as plot armour to save him from one impossible situation or another. When this is combined with the fact that he is seemingly the best at everything means that there is no sense of danger of Master Chief. Thankfully, though, that doesn’t apply to the other characters in the book.
When it comes down to it, I got exactly what I wanted from The Fall of Reach – a fun sci-fi adventure with some cool action and an introduction to the Halo universe. As somebody who only ever had a passing interest in the story and barely played the games, I plan to pick up more books in the series to see what happens next. If you set your expectations at the level of ‘cool explosions with some fun dramatic scenes’, then you’ll get a lot out of The Fall of Reach.
If you want more bookclubbing, then check out my review of the first four chapters of the Pokemon manga. For some video game stuff, and a shooter to boot, why not read George’s article on Call of Duty WW2.
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