The newly promoted Master Chief John-117 leads his Spartan troops on another deadly mission. But when things go awry, and John is forced to make hard tactical decisions, how will the inexperience soldier fare . . ?
Oblivion picks up only a few weeks after the end of Silent Storm, but is very much its own story. Quite often in a series, the first story will be focused on a handful of characters, and the second will expand both the setting and the stakes. Now, this is tie-in fiction, so a lot of the world establishing has already been done, and done very well, but Silent Storm actually went out of its way to introduce new ideas. As well as a John-117 origin story, it had lengthy tangents into the internal politics of the Covenant, and introduced the idea of human saboteurs working against the UNSC. All of this was intriguing and well-introduced, but Oblivion doesn’t end up following any of those particular plot threads.
Instead, we get a story on a much smaller scale. For a lot of the novel, it’s just John and his Spartans against the world. We get sketchy impressions of the larger conflict, including a handful of viewpoints from the Covenant side of things, but the actual mission is a whole lot simpler this time around. At least at first. The earlier sections deal with John’s inexperience as a leader, and his discomfort with the command structure. As a game protagonist, Master Chief was as flawless as the player wanted him to be. A superman in more ways than one. Here we see him making mistakes, both social faux pas and tactical errors that lead to deaths. It’s a crucial piece of early character development that Denning pulls off brilliantly.
Where the book really takes off is, unusually, once we meet some children. On a supposedly uninhabited world, John and his cohorts encounter a group of castaway children. Now, my initial reaction was ‘oh no, this will be terrible.’ But I was wrong. Sure, there are some of the tropes you’d expect. The whole believing-Spartans-are-aliens and not refusal to trust grown-ups are baked in. But their existence also pokes at some meatier ethical discussion. Legally, you have to rescue castaway children. But, as the old saying goes, in times of war, laws fall silent. Is it better to do the moral thing, or to achieve victory. The origin story of these children also complicates matters nicely.
Even more than Silent Storm, Oblivion has convinced me I was right to go all in on the Halo franchise. No, I haven’t found a book that that’s blown me away yet. But in Denning’s novels I’m getting a nice fix of military SF, and I’m not going to be disappointed by that.
Deeper Dive: One Universe, Many Series
This is the second Master Chief novel by Troy Denning, and I have the third (and potentially final) book in my TBR stack. However, it won’t be the next Halo novel I read. There’s a big time jump between books two and three, and my chronological reading order puts Shadows of Reach quite some way further down the schedule.
Usually, I’d be hopping into a series by another author, or a standalone. Instead I’ll be reading Last Light, which is also by Troy Denning. I have to say, it’s a little odd to be reading two trilogies by the same author, set in the same universe, at the same time. So much so that I might wait a little to come at the new book with a fresher perspective.
- A Master Chief Novel (#2)
- Takes place in June 2526
- Published by Titan
- First published in 2019
- Military SF
- 409 pages
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