Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Halo: Cryptum (Book Review)

Halo: Cryptum is a hard book to review as there is a lot here to both praise and criticise.
On the one hand it is well written, has a good pace, had likable characters and feels like the beginnings of a complex science fiction trilogy. On the other it introduces a lot of elements which serve little purpose in the overall universe, is utterly disconnected to the Covenant war and in all honesty seems like it’s Halo in name only.

As you might have guessed from the cover, the book looks into the lives of the Forerunners, the mysterious race who created Guilty Spark and the titular halo devices seen in the video games. In this case the book specifically follows the tale of one of the race, Born (Born Stellar Makes Eternal Lasting), who records the final years of his species’ existence. While this will likely answer a lot of questions about the games over time all I kept asking while reading it was “Do we really need to know this?”

The Forerunners were like Mass Effect’s Protheans. They’re a long dead race of aliens who we know little about and were involved in a major event which threatened the very existence of the galaxy itself. This works well on its own, expanding upon their lives removes a lot of the mystery behind them which makes their civilisation so interesting. If this was not bad enough there are many aspects relating to humanity which are quickly brought up, we have seen no sign of until now, and actually had me stop to check I had the right book only a few pages in. Yes, humanity is in this and yes they feel very out of place but it gets much stranger later on, trust me.

To give the book some credit the story itself is very well written. As the book is told through a first person narrative from Born the reader gets a good feel of how different his species from humanity without pages being spent trying to show just how alien they are. The only problem with this is that the style in which the first person narrative is written can be initially off-putting, helped in no small part by the author, Greg Bear, spending little time easing the reader into the novel. Bear in mind the book opens up with a Forerunner standing on a steamship filled with choirs, a crew of human subspecies going over a sea of kraken. Did I mention this doesn’t feel something from Halo?
It doesn’t get any easier to read in chapters following this, all of them feel slow and plodding, before thankfully picking up once the first big reveal is made. From there on it starts to get very interesting, expanding greatly upon the Forerunners and, despite the lack of action, has a feeling of major events being in motion. This is primarily due to the frequent hints about the Flood and the exploration of that antagonist’s origins.

This is a book which was enjoyable but it might have been better suited as a standalone series rather than a prequel to Halo. If you can manage a number of odd creative choices, major changes to the history of a number of species, big reveals and fewer explosions than usual, you might want to give this one a shot. If you’re a Halo fan who wants to preserve the sense of mystery behind the Forerunners and is more interested in the war between the UNSC and Covenant, then I’d suggest buying the novel Ghosts of Onyx over this.

One final warning I will give about Cryptum is that it’s not something you can read casually. Despite the short chapters and large font you need to concentrate to read this one, it did prove to be hard to focus on events taking place in the novel. It’s nowhere near as hard to follow as Frank Herbert’s later Dune novels or similar stuff, but it’s much harder to follow than other Halo novels like The Cole Protocol.


Halo and all related characters and media are owned by Microsoft.


  1. I think the Halo series of books is a challenge to climb. I simply do not have to go when they want to label read something. I think the biggest concern is that all books would not have studied mythology, untouched, would fall in contradiction to the development of the game.

  2. I think this book did not use enough descriptive language and was hard to follow but apart from that i loved the back stories.
    I thought it took alot of the mysteries out of the forerunners but created alot of mysteries in the precursors leveling it out.

    great book though.