Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Halo: Primordium

Title: Halo: Primordium
Author: Greg Bear
Pages: 379
ISBN: 9780230758292
Series: The Forerunner Saga #2
Publisher: Tor
Published: 2012
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

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In the wake of the apparent self-destruction of the Forerunner empire, two humans - Chakas and Riser - are like flotsam washed up on very strange shores indeed.

Captured by the Master Builder and then misplaced during a furious battle in space, they now find themselves on an inverted world where horizons rise into the sky and where humans of all kinds are trapped in a perilous cycle of horror and neglect. They have become both research animals and strategic pawns in a cosmic game whose madness knows no end - a game of ancient vengeance between the powers who seeded the galaxy with life, and the Forerunners who expect to inherit their sacred Mantle of duty to all living things.
Since this is the second book in the Forerunner saga I’m going to try to be as vague as possible to avoid any major spoilers. I highly suggest that you read Halo: Cryptum first or skip to the verdict if you want to avoid any chance of spoilers.

Halo: Primordium continues on directly after the events in Halo: Cryptum and focuses on one of the human characters, Chakas. Chakas finds himself stranded on a severely damaged Halo ring where he meets up with another group of humans who have lived their entire lives on the Halo. Together with two of these humans, Vinnevra and Gamelpar, he traverses the Halo in search of his lost companion, Riser, and a way off the ring. Chakas has to face many obstacles and during his journey he makes surprising discoveries about himself, the Halo and the machinations of the Forerunners and The Primordial.

The story is told in a first-person narrative from the viewpoint of Chakas and throughout the story we get a much more intimate glimpse of him and the warrior personality, the Lord of Admirals, imprinted in his genetic material. Chakas is a tragic figure, never quite in control of his own life and he is always being forced along the paths chosen for him. You can’t help but sympathise with him and wish for something good to happen to him.

Initially the pacing is quite slow and I found it frustrating at times. Most of the first half of the novel is taken up with their journey through the Halo. The characters stumble from one place to the next in a constant need to find food and shelter. While doing so there are striking descriptions of their surroundings, chance encounters and various conversations through which the history of the Halo and other essential background is revealed. There’s a lot of ground to cover and I think Greg Bear does an admirable job of balancing story progression and back-story which is a very difficult task given the huge scope of the Halo universe.

The second half of the novel is a well-deserved reward for persevering and that’s where Primordium truly shines. There are some more startling revelations; stunning twists; a very poignant moment; and a cliffhanger ending that thrusts the ancient past firmly into the present-day Halo universe.

The Verdict:
Halo: Primordium continues to delve into the history of the Halo universe offering quite a few surprises along the way. Die-hard Halo fans will definitely love discovering more about The Flood, the Precursor and what Chakas ultimately becomes. The cliffhanger ending also gives an enticing glimpse of how the story might tie in with the forthcoming Halo 4 game. More casual readers might find the slow pace a bit daunting, but it’s well worth persevering till the end. If you are looking for an action-packed adventure then you'd be better off looking at some of the other novels in the Halo franchise.

Despite the slow pacing I managed to enjoy Primordium and I can’t wait to see how things turn out. Hopefully the third and final installment will answer a few unresolved questions and deliver a far more action-orientated storyline. Recommended.

The Rating: 6/10 (Good)

Thanks to Kelly from Pan Macmillan S.A. for providing the review copy.

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