Review: Halo – Broken Circle

halobrokencircleAuthor: John Shirley
Publisher: Microsoft Corporation, 2014; A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Amazon Price: $11.76

Bottom Line

Ever wonder how the honourable warrior species Sangheili—the Elites—became a part of the Covenant? Halo: Broken Circle is the story of how that came to be. Broken Circle takes place hundreds of years before the Human-Covenant War began. Because of the history of the Halo lore rich in this book and the characters who are the oddest protagonists vital to the eventual fall of the Covenant, I could not put this book down. Because I was so enticed, I read this book in just three days. The way Shirley portrays these new characters the Halo fan has never heard of was brilliantly written in a way that not only makes the plot flow easily, but also has the reader empathise with the characters. I did not expect to like any of the characters since I’ve fought against the Covenant for so many years in the games. I expected to hate the characters. Instead, I found myself liking the alien protagonists because of their respectable character and common enemy—the Hierarch Prophets. If you’re interested in reading the story of how the Elites allied with the Covenant, and how the Great Schism that started in Halo 2 came about, this book tells the tale.

Review

The book starts off in the midst of the San’Shyuum-Sangheili War (Prophet-Elite War) on the Planet of Red and Blue during the Covenant’s “First Age of Conflict” (the first of 39). After this, the story continues many years later during the Covenant’s Age of Reconciliation, which is the age when the San’Shyuum shared the information they had learnt about the Forerunners with the Sangheili. During this age is when the two species formulated a truce called the Writ of Union in order to have a unified Covenant. There are two prominent figures in this story, one a San’Shyuum and the other a Sangheili. The San’Shyuum is Mken, who is the Prophet of Inner Conviction and Minister of Relic Safety. The Sangheili is Ussa ‘Xellus, who is adamant to join the Covenant and recruits other Sangheili to continue the rebellion against them. As the plot unfolds, the reader gains some insight not just into the birth of the Covenant, but also the beginning politics of the Hierarchs and the culture of the Sangheili. 

After a significant battle on their home planet Sangheilios, ‘Xellus and his rebel Sangheili flee and find refuge on a shield world, where they encounter its AI called Enduring Bias. Enduring Bias allows them to stay as they try to find a way to get back to Sangheilios. Back on High Charity, the Covenant’s main base of operations, the Hierarch called Qurlom tells Mken of a new Ministry the Hierachs created: the Ministry of Anticipatory Security. This becomes a problem for Mken because the San’Shyuum in charge of it, R’Noh Custo, is his political nemesis who warns Mken that the Ministry was created to remove any possible threats to the High Prophet of Excellent Redolence’s authority. Later on, Excellent Redolence selects Mken to lead a mission on the planet Janjur Qom to find a Luminary. If you didn’t read what a Luminary was in my review on Halo: Contact Harvesta Luminary is a Forerunner device that locates other nearby Forerunner artifacts. Thus, a Luminary was an extremely prized value for the Covenant for religious and technological purposes. Mken did not want to participate in the mission, but Excellent Redolence, knowing Mken’s wife was in her fertile cycle, threatened that if Mken refused he would put him on trial and would more than likely be put back on the Roll of Celibates. (The Roll of Celibates was the Hierarchy’s method of controlling San’Shyuum procreation.) So, Mken reluctantly accepted the mission. Unfortunately, the mission doesn’t go as planned and Mken ends up on trial anyway. Fortunately, the trial goes well for this unlikely hero. Afterwards, Mken is put in charge of a fleet to destroy ‘Xellus and his rebels. Having compassion for the Sangheili, Mken offers him a merciful negotiation: if he and his wife, Sooln, turn themselves in, he will allow the rest of his rebels to go free. However, ‘Xellus refuses, the battle ensues, and Mken’s fleet wins. Yet in the midst of the debris, Mken notices odd movements and chooses to ignore them as he hopes ‘Xellus survived the onslaught. If you’re shocked at a Prophet’s mercy and hope for his supposed “enemy,” so was I. Perhaps Mken knew the Covenant and its cause was corrupt, so knowing he was powerless to stand against it, maybe this is why he hoped ‘Xellus survived so that someone may stop the Hierarchs. Little did he know about ‘Xellus’s true fate and the humans’ later involvement in taking out the Covenant.

Over 3,400 years later during the 9th Age of Reclamation, a descendent of Mken called Zo Resken is collecting together a record of the history of the Covenant where he learns of Mken and his involvement with Ussa ‘Xellus. He also suspects ‘Xellus and his rebels are still alive on the shield world. Just like his ancestor, Resken has good relations with high ranking Sangheili. After learning a conspiracy the Prophet of Truth concocted to cast the Sangheili out of the Covenant, he warns his Sangheili friends. The story continues as Resken experiences what the gamer experiences in Halo 2 & 3—the Changing of the Guard, the Great Schism, the Battle of Installation 05, and the fall of High Charity. Are Ussa ‘Xellus and his rebels still alive on the shield world? Do they get to return to Sangheilios? Does Mken’s ancestor, Zo Resken, survive the Great Schism? What does this lead to? If you’re interested in these answers, then I highly recommend this book.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed Shirley’s style of writing, the way he jumped back and forth between the perspectives of the San’Shyuum prophets and the rebel Sangheili. It felt like I was reading a TV series, so every time the perspectives changed, I felt myself wanting to read more like reaching the end of an episode to find out what would happen to the protagonists. I’m also surprised that I found myself caring for the main characters, since they were mostly all associated with the Covenant. After playing the Halo games so much, I of course found myself hating the Covenant and anyone who sided with them. Of course, it was easy to like the rebel Sangheili since they wanted nothing to do with the Covenant. However, I found myself rooting for Mken and Resken in spite of their loyalty to the Covenant. It’s true marks of a greater writer, in my opinion, to force you to abandon your biased feelings and come to a growing empathy and respect for characters associated with an enemy you loathe.

Not only do we learn of the Sangheili faction who have fought the Covenant for centuries and the Covenant’s early roots of corruption, but we also learn that even within the Covenant there was reluctance about the Covenant’s supposed “holy” cause. The Prophet Mken saw this early on, centuries before the Covenant disbanded. Somehow, down his lineage, one of his descendants developed a similar suspicion through Mken’s records, and leads toward a victorious ending. At the end of this book, the reader can see how the Hierarchy’s arrogance and corruption was the cause of their eventual downfall.

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