Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Thanks to Scholastic Books for supplying an advanced reader’s copy for the purpose of review.
Halo, one of the most influential franchises in gaming, is finally receiving a genuine literary treatment in Cassandra Rose Clarke’s Halo: Battle Born. Centered around a brand-new quartet of characters, it shows their action-packed journey from high school to fully fledged heroes, determining the fate of Meridian. This synopsis from the very beginning, seems both clichéd and derivative. Other novels centered in gaming universes have genuinely failed due to using this plot. However, while its phony characters never quite innovate the book to new, unprecedented heights, its ultimately the portrayal of the world through Clarke’s passionate word choice that save Battle Born from becoming a clunky mess. Despite its shortcomings due to its weak roster of characters and clunky storyline, Halo: Battle Born never ceases to entertain and rivet, due to its magnificent world building of an already dense atmosphere.
Kicking off in rather simple fashion, the storyline of Battle Born on paper is both weak and unfulfilling. Its nature and timeline of events feels forced and as if it was just thrown together at the last moment. Retreading previous steps and mistakes of other releases in the genre, Clarke fails to innovate on the formula, a disappointing attribute given the sheer scope of the world. Most of the characters, including the primary quartet of Saskia, Dorian, Evie, and Victor, are just as clunky, but the effort to even portray them as characters with histories is still important to note.
By the end, Halo: Battle Born implements every trick in the book to create a third act, similar to most action films. And truthfully, it still appears to function readily well, with Clarke’s fantastic sense of writing action, allowing the reader to be seeped into this magnificent world. It may never reach new emotional heights with its characters, but Clarke immediately resorts to developing the next best thing-the world. As a video game novel, Battle Born is heavily established in the lore of the franchise, with common terminology being mentioned at a moment’s notice. When judged to the storyline of the actual franchise itself, it was refreshing to see a new take on a world that is as dense with history as seen in Destiny. Clarke smartly capitalizes on this, allowing her dull characters to breathe once in a while and seep in the fantastic atmosphere.
When judged to the video game franchise itself, Battle Born clearly has an edge due to how evasive the medium of literature is in relation to gaming. But even with this technical advantage, it never capitalizes on it. The story feels strangely distant with the book never turning into the fully-fledged page-turner that Clarke seems to have desperately wanted. But thanks to its rewarding third act and dense atmosphere, Battle Born still redeems its faults, delivering one of the better releases of the forsaken genre in recent memory. However, as established by the ominous conclusion, the book is the start of something new, and on that front, it’s an effective work that will hopefully lead to better things.
Score: 6.8 out of 10
Saskia, Dorian, Evie, and Victor aren't exactly friends at their small high school on the middle-of-nowhere colony world of Meridian. Each has their own problems, from absent parents to supporting their family, getting into a good college to making the next hit holo-film. But those problems were nothing next to the threat now facing their world: The alien alliance known as the Covenant is laying siege to Meridian, for reasons that aren't so easily explained.
With their village in flames, the four teens find themselves stuck aboveground, locked out of the town shelter where the rest of the survivors are gathered. Together, Saskia, Dorian, Evie, and Victor are thrust into battle with nothing but a few scavenged weapons and an injured Spartan, one of the UNSC's super-soldiers. What's forged from the destruction will determine the fate of Meridian, and tilt the battle for humanity's survival.
Cassandra Rose Clarke's work has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award, the Pushcart Prize, and YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults. She grew up in south Texas and currently lives in a suburb of Houston, where she writes and serves as the associate director for Writespace, a literary arts nonprofit. She holds an MA in creative writing from the University of Texas at Austin, and in 2010 she attended the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in Seattle.
HALO: BATTLE BORN hits store shelves on January 1st, 2019.