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HALO: New Blood Paperback – March 15, 2016
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About the Author
Matt Forbeck is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling author and game designer. He has more than thirty novels and countless games published to date. His latest work includes Dungeonlogy, the Star Wars: Rogue One junior novel, the last two editions of The Marvel Encyclopedia, his Monster Academy YA fantasy novels, and the upcoming Shotguns & Sorcery roleplaying game based on his novels. He lives in Beloit, WI, with his wife and five children, including a set of quadruplets. For more about him and his work, visit Forbeck.com.
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The narrative structure here is written in the first person, from the perspective of Edward Buck, a former Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. He recounts his journey to joining the Spartan-IV program, making stops throughout his life to highlight what he sees as key moments and experiences. Avoiding spoilers, these sections are rather variable; some feel slightly irrelevant while others are extremely important storywise, and one extended section is more or less a straightforward rehash of ODST's campaign, similar to the novel "Halo: The Flood" by William Dietz. The narrative frequently feels jumbled, there are some severe issues with the "stories within stories within stories" structure that the book follows, as I frequently found myself losing track of where I was at in Buck's story timewise.
However, the fact remains that the characters here are excellently portrayed, considering the limitations the novel's length imposes as a matter of necessity. Many emotional and tense moments are engagingly written, the plot never spirals into overly slow sections, and most importantly of all, the Spartan-IVs are humanized far better than Halo 4, Spartan Ops, and the entirety of Halo Escalations ever managed.
This move is pure genius: By looking at the S-IV program through the eyes of pre-established characters who fans have already grown attached to, we are given a strong look inside the psyche of ordinary soldiers who've suddenly become superhuman. Excellently written in that respect.
There are plenty of clever nods to preexisting lore here, as well: Sadie, the girl from a series of Easter eggs in ODST, Jun (who many fans will remember from Halo: Reach), Sgt. Avery Johnson (In a flashback to ODST's campaign), and more are featured to varying degrees, and will tickle many a lore nut's funny bone.
In conclusion, I'd say this is an enjoyable book. It provides an unexpectedly emotional and powerful sendoff of sorts to the cast of ODST, and this element enables it to get past its uneven pacing and other slight issues.
A must own for Halo fans, even if it isn't perfect.
Which makes me wonder, why wasn't THIS book the official bridge between Halo 3 and Halo 4? Karen Traviss's Kilo Five trilogy may have much more substantial links to Halo 4 as far as direct backstory is concerned, but Halo: New Blood does an infinitely better job of setting up the new state of the galaxy in general, and the Spartan-IV program specifically. Halo: New Blood actually FEELS like Halo, and not a sluggish and boring political science thesis like the Kilo Five trilogy did.
New Blood also does an excellent job of expanding on the character of Gunnery Sergeant Edward Buck, the fan-favorite ODST played by Nathan Fillion in the games. Not only do we find out what he and the rest of the characters of Halo 3: ODST have been doing since that game, we also get to see his entire backstory with glimpses of his childhood, early career as an ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper), and how he first met ONI Captain Veronica Dare. And perhaps the best aspect of this is that Matt Forbeck manages to capture the character of Buck so well that I actually found myself reading this book in Nathan Fillion's voice inside my head. To my knowledge, this is the first Halo novel that has been written in first-person, and using a major game character as that narrator on top of it.
This first-person perspective makes it much easier to handle the fact that this novel does not tell a linear narrative. Rather, it reads as more of a stream-of-consciousness piece, as if Buck is actually sitting down with you and telling you this story in person. It makes the reading fun, but also a bit frustrating as some important scenes cut away to different ones that take place years in the past. As I said, the first-person narration makes these jumps easy to follow, but those looking for a linear narrative will not find one here.
In the end, Halo: New Blood is the best Halo book since Eric Nylund's Halo: First Strike, and I hope Matt Forbeck writes another one.