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Halo: The Thursday War Review [Book]

Posted on November 1, 2012 AT 02:00pm

Karen Traviss has made a name for herself in the gaming community by expanding upon the universes created in Gears of War and Halo with novels and short stories.  Her first Halo novel, Glasslands, continued the story begun in Ghosts of Onyx.  In Glasslands, Traviss introduced us to the head of ONI, the Spartan 4 program, and the Arbiter’s homeworld, Sanghelios.  The novel ended with an abrupt cliffhanger that left many more questions than answers.

Halo: The Thursday War continues the complex plot of Glasslands. The Human/Covenant war is over and peace with the Elites is based hangs on a thin treaty with the Arbiter. The Elites are in the midst of an identity crisis and must learn how to depend solely on themselves after the fall of the Covenant. While Lord Hood respects the Human treaty with the Sangheili, Margaret Parangosky and the Office of Naval Intelligence are doing everything in their power to make sure the Elites never return to their pre-Covenant strength and ferocity.  The task of keeping the Elites in a state of turmoil falls on Kilo-Five, a covert squad of ONI operatives including a pair of ODST’s, Spartan 010, a state of the art smart AI called BB, and Professor Evan Phillips who specializes in the Sangheili language. Also caught up in the near imminent civil war on Sanhelios is Jul’ Madma, a Sangheili spy who is looking to overthrow the Arbiter.

While previous authors for the Halo series focused heavily on the military aspects of the UNSC, Traviss concentrates on the inner workings of ONI. With Osman and Kilo Five causing hell for the Sangheili behind enemy lines and Dr. Magnusson studying and interrogating Jul ‘Mdama, the UNSC is much more than a simple military force. The same cannot be said for the Sangheili nation. As a culture they relied heavily on the San ‘Shyuum and the Covenant hierarchy for their daily functions. This not only led to a serious lack of usable skills after the dissolution of the Covenant, but also a sense of confusion about the nature of the Forerunners and their importance to the Sanheili culture. Traviss does an excellent job of showing how the Arbiter, Jul ‘Mdama, and Avu Med ‘Telcam each respond and adapt to the Sangheili’s new place in the universe.

Traviss’ biggest strength as a writer is managing multiple storylines at once. Nearly every chapter starts by focusing on a different major character and Traviss often switches the narrative focus to different characters multiple times within a chapter.  This narrative style does a good job of creating tension for each of the characters while also keeping the various plot elements from growing stale or too convoluted.  Fans who are familiar with the other Halo novels will also be pleased to see plenty of references to characters and plot elements previously introduced in Ghosts of Onyx.  Traviss also references characters and plot elements such as Thomas Lasky and the UNSC Infinity that will be explored in Halo 4.

Since The Thursday War is the second story in a trilogy, the novel unfortunately ends on a major cliffhanger with plenty of plot threads left unresolved.  This is what hurts Halo fans the most.  With the release of Halo 4 set for next week, the plot of the game could possibly interfere with the plot of the final Halo novel written by Traviss.  While I have every bit of faith in Karen Traviss’ writing abilit, she may not be able to avoid spoilers contained within Halo 4 or and continuity errors that may arise when she concludes her Halo Trilogy.  Only time will tell how well the novels fit into the Halo universe and the wait until then will be excruciating.

Overall, Halo: The Thursday War is a fantastic addition to the Halo mythos.  Karen Traviss weaves a complex and fascinating and complex story that adds welcome depth to the Halo universe.  The cliffhanger ending leaves readers wanting more, but the impending release of Halo 4 may spoil some of the mysteries yet to be explored in Traviss’ final Halo novel.

The Good: Tight and complex narrative, even with dozens of characters to follow
The Bad: The story ends on an extremely painful cliffhanger
The Ugly:  While set before the events of Halo 4, the story will not be resolved until well after the release of the game.


James is a complete gaming geek that moonlights as a guitar player for local Miami rock band phoenix/NEBULIN. When he's not rocking out onstage he can be found on PSN and Xbox Live as Anxiety83. You can also follow James on Twitter @anxiety83

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