Halo: Hunters in the Dark
Having played the Halo games, I never ventured into Halo novels, until now. In Hunters in the Dark, Peter David sets up an adventure story with a mixed, colorful cast of characters as they go through the portal on Earth to the remnants of the Ark. There they must stop a demented monitor from wiping out all sentient life in the universe. For so a daring mission, the human and Covenant forces send a team of Spartans, Elites and scientists to find the Ark and the cause for the trouble. Alas, the story falls short of delivering a fun and entertaining read. Peter David’s prowse, plotting and characterizations run shallow, predictable and mundane. It loses a lot of steam once they reach the Ark, and the story never manages regain that level of interest. This is certainly a book you can skip. Fair warning, plenty of spoilers after this point.
Oddly enough, the beginning of the story focused on a pair of intellectuals. One of the primary characters is an expert on the Forerunners named Luther. His companion is an engineer named Henry who also focuses on Forerunner technology. There is a good amount of page time spent with these two as they explore the mysteries of the Forerunners, the Halo rings, and eventually the Ark. However, while that could have been a good thing, none of those mysteries are ever intended for the reader. They’re simply plot hurdles for the characters, and after some hand waving, the obstacles disappear. Thus the mysteries of the Forerunners remain mysteries to the readers, even if the characters themselves supposedly learned something. It’s just one of numerous missed opportunities that could have made the story better.
Complementing the scientists, the story throws in a pair of Spartans and a pair of Elites. Now playing through the Halo games, the Spartans are fairly impressive warriors. The Master Chief creates a mythos to them that sadly the two Spartans in this book do little to warrant. Spartan Kodiak is simple minded warrior who still holds a grudge against the Covenant even though the war is over. He lost an arm to an Elite named N’tho ‘Sraom and a brother to a secret mission to the Ark. That sums up the entirety of his character. The other Spartan is a guy named Holt who unabashedly, and unexplainably, grovels over Olympia Vale, even though she’s married and show no interest in him. He’s more chatty than Kodiak, but he gets even less character development. In fact, her gets zero character development. Where he starts is where he finishes. There’s absolutely no character evolution for him at all.
The two Elites are almost mirrors of the Spartans. Usze Taham gets a nice little passage in the beginning when hunts down a heretic, but after that, he’s just a throwaway piece of scenery that occasional stabs things and says some unimaginative piece of action dialog. The other Elite is of course N’tho, which does add some nice tension to the story. N’tho and Kodiak fight each other and come to an uneasy working agreement to do their jobs. Regrettably the tension had more potential than what was actually done in the story. All four characters become pretty boring after a while when it becomes evident that there isn’t much to any of them. Of the four, Kodiak gets the most character development simply because he gets over his hatred for N’tho and manages to find his brother. But even that isn’t saying much since there isn’t a whole lot for readers to attach on to.
Rounding out the cast, there is a Huragok named Drifts Randomly, a USNC captain named Annabelle Richards, and a language expert named Olympia Vale who is sent to mediate between the humans and the Sangheili on the mission. Drifts Randomly remains a side character for the entire book and shows up whenever the plot requires some hand waving to remove an obstacle or heal and injury. Captain Richards starts out with a prominent role being in charge of the human force, but is quickly taken down a peg when the Elites forcibly take control of the mission and sideline her and her authority. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she then gets injured as it completely sidelined from the story. Vale on the other had is probably the oddest character in the book. She can fluently speak Sangheili, so she is sent along to help maintain cooperation during the mission. However she never mediates anything between the two sides. Instead Kodiak and N’tho, and Captain Richards and N’tho all work out their differences by themselves. Eventually Vale conveniently gets mind controlled, captured by the monitor, and unsuccessfully tries to talk the monitor out of destroying Earth. At the end of the book, they of course are triumphant and save the day, but Vale is upset that she was unable to to mediate with the monitor. She gets one fight scene which warrants a compliment from Kodiak who says she should become a Spartan. All in all it’s a very underwhelming character journey for her.
Just to clarify some of the flaws with the story, let me provide some examples. For instance, there’s Spartan Holt, who in his once chance of character insight reveals his greatest strength is having no imagination. Seriously, he says this in the story elaborating how not being able to creatively think gives him an edge in battle. I’m still not sure how any reader on the entire planet is suppose to believe that one. Then there’s the N’tho the Sangheili Elite who commands his ship in battle. It’s a great moment to showcase his leadership abilities. However, what happens is he orders his crew “Fire on that vessel.” Then “fire on that vessel”. Eventually he comes up with a grand idea to really underline his tactical brilliance, “ram the ship!” It was easily the worst dialog I’ve ever read of a ship captain commanding a vessel. On top of all this, the ONI, which is suppose to be the intelligence force for the humans, sends to prejudiced operatives on the joint task force to save the universe. The story takes great pride in pointing this out, showcasing how Kodiak can barely contain his hatred for the Sangheili, and Captain Richards complete disdain for the Sangheili. Yet even with all of that, I think the worst element of the story was when the author used mind control on Vale to take her out of picture and put her in captivity. It completely undermined the strength of her character and weakened the entire story. Add to it Kodiak’s hatred toward N’tho undermining the strength of his character, Richards getting sidelined, and a handful of shallow warriors, and you get a very uninspiring cast of characters.
In the end, Hunters in the Dark is a weak story with a weak plot and weak characters. As my first foray into Halo literature, it was a terrible experience. I’m not prepared to give up on the franchise yet as a bad book is often the fault of a bad writer and not a bad setting. Thus I’ll try a couple more Halo books before I give up on it. That said, it’s unlikely I’ll ever read another book by Peter David. I give this one two out of five metal bikinis. While it wasn’t a completely awful book, it’s certainly not a story I’d recommend to anyone.