“Never doubt the devotion of a friend who asks the questions you fear to answer.”
Halo: Divine Wind by Troy Denning released October 19th, 2021.
After focusing primarily on the Master Chief and Blue Team for the last few years, Denning returns to Veta Lopis and her Spartan-III ‘Ferret’ team as they face their greatest challenge yet: preventing the Halos from being fired by the fanatical Castor.
343 Industries kindly provided me an early copy of Divine Wind, which I did not put down until I turned the last page at 2am.
Here is my (non-spoiler) review of what I think is Denning’s best Halo outing yet.
What a year this has been for Halo fiction!
We’ve had four seasons of The Master Chief Collection, which brought the joint human-Sangheili ‘Anvil Initiative’ into official canon. Kelly Gay explored some of the oldest and deepest mysteries of the universe in her novel Point of Light, and the release of Halo Infinite is just on the horizon.
But before we jump into the next great movement of the Master Chief’s odyssey, we’ve got Troy Denning’s latest novel — Divine Wind.
I have to admit to feeling some trepidation upon initially reading the blurb for this book when it was revealed. We’ve done the story of going to the Ark to stop the Halo rings from being fired twice, in Halo 3 (2007) and Hunters in the Dark (2015)…
I don’t personally hold a lot of fondness for either of those entries’ narratives, so it came as a very welcome surprise to me that Divine Wind ended up telling the very best version of that kind of story.
The key to Denning’s magic here is character.
In the years since Denning’s debut with Last Light (2015), his own corner of the universe has been populated with a lot of its own mythology: Veta, the Ferrets, Castor, the Keepers of the One Freedom, Intrepid Eye, and more…
If any of these things are at all familiar to your Halo lexicon, you’re going to get a lot out of Divine Wind.
If they’re not, this book does a good job of catching you up on the highlights to keep you in the loop, but I would say that this story demands you get the full depth of what’s been going on in its predecessors.
While I have enjoyed the foray into the early years of the Covenant war that we got with Silent Storm (2018) and Oblivion (2019), there is a degree to which they felt like a bit of a ‘detour’ for me because it’s Denning’s post-war stories and characters that I have found most gripping.
I hold Veta Lopis in the esteem of being among the Great Halo Protagonists, standing alongside the likes of Thel ‘Vadam and Bornstellar. Her journey from criminal inspector to the parent and squad leader of a trio of teenage supersoldiers as a deep cover ONI agent has been amazing. It’s fair to say that both Veta and Rion Forge have become the ‘face’ for what many consider to be the post-war era’s very best stories.
As a result, I found that Divine Wind was a welcome return to a lot of things that made Troy Denning the fan-favourite name he very quickly became from his debut.
But that roster of great characters has only expanded over the years. As the cover of the novel depicts, we’ve got Castor and the much-beloved Inslaan ‘Gadogai — introduced in last year’s Shadows of Reach as Castor’s advisor, would-be assassin, and loyal frenemy.
Their dynamic is endlessly fascinating and continues to be a highlight of this book as we learn more about ‘Gadogai’s backstory and the source of the devotion he now shows Castor.
As we’re heading to the Ark, you can certainly make the logical deduction that some characters from Halo Wars 2 — both UNSC and Banished — make some kind of substantial appearance here.
And then there’s the San’Shyuum Prelate (the Prophets’ analog to Spartans), Dhas Bhasvod, who proves to be a fascinating new addition not just for this story, but for the next ‘phase’ of Halo stories to come over the next ten years…
If that sounds like a lot to juggle (it is), then one of the highest compliments I can pay to Troy Denning as a writer is that he makes the act of doing so look easy.
That’s really what sets Divine Wind apart from our previous outings to the Ark to stop the Halos from being fired. The complex, interweaving motivations of these characters drives the story to so many interesting and unexpected places.
Zealotry is a key theme in Divine Wind, and Denning pushes these characters well beyond their limits in exploring their devotion through their relationship with faith and loyalty.
Castor is besieged from all sides. His closest friend is a cynical atheist who constantly questions him; he puts great trust in Veta and the Ferrets, not knowing they have infiltrated his faction for two years (and we see how they are affected by maintaining such deep cover for so long); Dhas Bhasvod is not quite the ally he was expecting, and Intrepid Eye — the ‘oracle’ he worships — has her own goals she is using him for.
This interplay between characters, the grand masquerade of verbal sparring and strategic theatre, is what I love most about Denning’s writing. That’s here in abundance, and there comes a turning point where we get more of the militaristic side of Silent Storm, Oblivion, and Shadows of Reach as well.
In many ways, Divine Wind is a tour de force of Denning’s style that demonstrates the kind of mastery you hope to see in what almost feels like the end of a series. At no point does it take its eye off the ball, constantly making the most interesting advances for its character writing.
That’s why it hits the mark so strongly for me, and it’s the key area in which I feel Halo 3 and Hunters in the Dark didn’t succeed.
To conclude, my overall assessment of Divine Wind is that it’s a melting pot of many of the best things from Troy Denning’s previous work.
Like with Kelly Gay’s books, 343 has been using recent media to open new doors for future stories. There are some long-hanging threads that are primed for a huge return, and one of them actually manages to make sense of the Prophet of Truth’s characterisation shift in Halo 3.
(Yeah, that got your attention!)
I feel like I’ve been on a Great Journey with these characters that I’ve come to love over the last six years. The expanded universe of Halo has been greatly enriched by Veta Lopis and the stories and characters surrounding her, and a solid case can be made for Divine Wind being their finest hour.
As the last Halo story to release before we dive into Halo Infinite, a key impression that Divine Wind left on me was how intrigued and excited I am for what’s coming next as 343’s narrative plan for the future takes shape.
Halo: Divine Wind released October 19th, 2021.
Written by Troy Denning, the cover art was made by Benjamin Carré, and the audiobook is narrated by Aida Reluzco.
October 2559. With the galaxy in the suffocating grip of a renegade artificial intelligence, another perilous threat has quietly emerged in the shadows: the Keepers of the One Freedom, a fanatical and merciless Covenant splinter group, has made its way beyond the borders of the galaxy to an ancient Forerunner installation known as the Ark.
Led by an infamous Brute named Castor, the Keepers intend to achieve what the Covenant, in all its might, failed to: activate Halo and take the last steps on the path of the Great Journey into transcendence…
But unknown to Castor and his new, unexpected ally on the Ark, there are traitors to the cause in their midst – namely the Ferrets, composed of Office of Naval Intelligence operative Veta Lopis and her young team of Spartan-IIIs, who have been infiltrating the Keepers to lay the groundwork for Castor’s assassination. But with ONI’s field operations now splintered and cut off by the Guardian threat, Veta’s original mission has suddenly and dramatically escalated in scope.
There’s simply no choice or fallback plan – either the Ferrets somehow stop the Keepers or the galaxy faces an extinction-level event…
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