With Halo Infinite delayed to 2021, now seemed like the perfect time to help catch people up on the last two decades of Halo literature – in the quickest way possible!
You may have recently seen Brian David Gilbert’s delightful descent into madness in his Unravelled series, where he read all of the Halo books over the course of a year as a relative newcomer to the franchise.
I, with all the biases and hot takes of a twenty-year veteran, have similarly assumed the mantle of summing up all of the thirty Halo books in a sentence or two.
THE BUNGIE ERA
DENIAL: Bungie wanted absolutely none of these…
THE FALL OF REACH
The one where it all started, and the reason we have an expanded universe to enjoy (feat. better quality than all of the adaptations and retellings that have followed)
That one where they adapted Halo 1 into a novel where all the best bits were the parts that had nothing to do with Halo 1. Released April 1st but wasn’t an April Fools’ joke (feat. Master Chief naked, criminally removed from the 2010 rerelease – boo!)
The one where we learn how Johnson made it back home in one piece; Chief and Cortana are traumatised after Halo 1 and go on a fun timey-wimey road trip (feat. that major shift in Halsey’s character arc that we’ll kind of forget about later)
GHOSTS OF ONYX
The one where ONI decided they’d make an even more morally abhorrent child supersoldier program with suicide missions for 12-year-old war orphans! (feat. TRILLIONS of fleet-killing Onyx Sentinels that form the titular Onyx which you’re never going to see or hear about ever again)
The one where they finally explain how the Covenant war started: a Huragok threw a rock at a human. You’ll cry a few times (feat. a sex scene)
THE COLE PROTOCOL
The one where we learn Thel ‘Vadamee’s naughty boy backstory, and humans are living with Jackals in a big rock run by a rampant AI – what could possibly go wrong? (feat. ice cream and a Thel ‘Vadamee striptease)
The one where a bunch of short stories from 343 highlight the fact that living in the Halo universe would be absolutely horrible (feat. being eaten by the Flood, being eaten by Jiralhanae, and making friends with naughty bugs who would probably eat you too – om nom nom)
THE RECLAIMER SAGA BEGINS
ANGER: One of these trilogies is the best thing to happen to Halo.
The other is Kilo-5.
The one where a Forerunner – wearing only a straw hat and sandals – and his two human sidekicks awaken the Didact, who spends two weeks brooding on an island investigating galactic atrocities and then necking his friend’s vintage alcohol (feat. cosmic horror, alien politics, and comedy)
The one where Mendicant Bias recruits an army of ancient human ghosts to stop Installation 07 from self-destructing so it can appear in Halo Infinite (feat. walking, roving, hiking, running, trekking, voyaging, wandering, roaming, migrating, wayfaring…)
The one where everyone literally dies. Also the best Halo book (feat. lots and lots and LOTS of emotional trauma, for the characters and reader)
The one where you can magically cure your mental illness if you just hate Halsey enough! (does not feat. Onyx Sentinels)
THE THURSDAY WAR
The one where Vaz Beloi consolidates his position as The Worst Character in Halo and Jul ‘Mdama pulls his weight in providing the sole reprieve for many fans’ investment in this trilogy (feat. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday)
The one where Halsey’s journal is literally compared to “Mein Kampf with pictures.” Very clearly the book Karen Traviss actually wanted to write, unbound from the ‘set stuff up for Halo 4’ mandate (feat. aliens who lack any semblance of their own culture and talk exclusively using human idioms and expressions because worldbuilding is hard)
THE HALO 5 ERA
BARGAINING: You begin to wonder if this might be too many books…
The one where you didn’t expect this to be one of the best books in the series, at the cost of having lots and lots of names that you’ll struggle to read (feat. literally the only happy ending in a Halo book – you’ll cry)
The One Where The Rookie Dies (feat. the Rookie’s death)
HUNTERS IN THE DARK
The one where we return to the Ark to do Halo 3’s plot again and deal with zero of the long-established story points set up for it over the previous eight years (feat. Thel in hot leggings and Halo 3’s co-op Elites giving absolutely no shits whatsoever at any point)
The one where the post-war era finally got good – like… really, REALLY good! (feat. Fred the sled)
The one where Frank O’Connor really needs to write more Halo literature because he’s bloody good at it! (feat. thoroughly nuanced exploration of AI sentience and the social progress triggered by Cortana’s sacrifice at the end of Halo 4… shattered three months after this book came out by Halo 5)
SHADOW OF INTENT
The one where Joe Staten returned to tell a new story about Rtas just really wanting a nap; came out after Halo 5 so the year didn’t end on a complete downer (feat. Rtas singing a ballad, a mini-Halo ring, and Sangheili feminism)
The one where they did a bunch of short stories that are basically prologues to future novels, but also really quite good (feat. “Have you tried switching the Domain off and on again?”)
DEPRESSION: You’ve long signed away your life to the Halo universe at this point. There is no going back.
SMOKE AND SHADOW
The one where Sergeant Forge actually became a cool and interesting character, with jaw-dropping references to some of the most obscure Halo fiction ever (feat. depressed worms)
The one where Grey Team comes back after a secret mission to blow up a Sangheili planet. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move (feat. Halo 2‘s cutting room floor)
The one where Veta Lopis is now officially a mum to a bunch of teenage supersoldiers – it’s glorious! (feat. A Forerunner AI spying on a threesome in a location we visit in Halo 5)
LEGACY OF ONYX
The one where a teenage girl and her alien pals take down a Guardian and something good is finally done with the ‘Mdama story as penance for Halo 5 (feat. a continued lack of Onyx Sentinels and Mendez showing absolutely no discipline with classified information)
The one where they wrap up the reunion at the end of Halo 5 in a couple of pages and then Buck tries recreating one of the Chief’s many falls from orbit while hugging a Huragok (feat. a BBQ with the Sangheili where Arby ‘n’ the Chief reunite at last… for about one page, and you see none of it, sucker!)
The one where Troy Denning didn’t write a third book about Veta and the Ferrets (feat. many characters from those books about Veta and the Ferrets).
The one where a Spartan must adopt four dysfunctional, emotionally traumatised seventeen-year-olds to combat the flood… no, not the parasite – the RAIN is the real enemy in this book (feat. humans dressing up as Covenant for a concert, hell yeah!)
The one where Guilty Spark makes his new human friends watch all of Halo‘s Terminals on YouTube (feat. many, MANY tears)
The one where it’s sort of like Mad Max: Fury Road meets Halo: Primordium, which is weird and also works incredibly well (feat. inbred pirate kids and microwave guns)
The one where those traumatised teens from Battle Born get even more traumatised (feat. trauma induced by continued alien invasion and death, ONI cover-ups, and Forerunner foolery that makes you get really high before dying – unless you’re a Spartan. Does not feat. a third book.)
ACCEPTANCE: You cease to care whether or not this is too many books, you’re ready for the next one now. BRING ON SHADOWS OF REACH!
And that’s all of them – for now.
Yeah… the next one is just a month away. Shadows of Reach drops October 20th.
This is, of course, not even counting the comics, graphic novels, and the vast plethora of Halo multimedia that exists even beyond the books.
It’s an incredible achievement. As fun as some of the jabs are to make towards some of the books which maybe aren’t my favourite, I can literally count those on one hand – out of twenty four novels, two anthologies, and four novellas, that’s a hell of a ratio!
Halo’s transmedia is one of the greatest strengths of the series. I have previously remarked that the craft of this universe is sold short by comparing it to that of Tolkien or Star Wars.
What Halo has accomplished is in a league of its own.
And I think we’re just getting started…
If you’re looking to purchase any Halo books but aren’t sure where to look, here are some recommended places:
Audiobooks can be found on Audible, along with various other retailers.
Additionally, while not the ideal way to listen, many can be found on YouTube as well.