Eric Nyuland’s Microsoft-commisioned novel, Halo: The Fall of Reach, is an excellent addition to the Halo canon. But as a sci-fi novel it is merely adequate. Nyuland proves himself a better writer than expected, but this is still a little hammy in places. The set pieces are spectacular — truly thrilling and cinematic throughout -– but the novel’s pace was undermined by its running time. At almost four hundred pages, and with the titular battle of Reach resigned to the last seventy (like an afterthought), this was far longer than it needed to be.
To Nyuland’s credit, though, main characters, Captain Jacob Keyes and John-117, are handled with a lot more depth and conviction than their handling in the sister stories of the video games. Each of the main characters had layered, believable motivations and – gasp! – feelings. (That’s right, Master Chief had opinions about war long before 343 Industries oiled his voice box.) Master Chief’s origins were particularly well-handled, and I also found the head of the Spartan Project, Dr Catherine Halsey, a necessarily complex individual.
At this point, with Halo: Reach and a slew of other expanded universe stories out there, one might question the relevance of Halo: The Fall of Reach. Effectively, this book serves as the immediate prequel to the first game, Halo: Combat Evolved, and, I think, its relevance holds after all these years. It’s one thing to have a loose understanding of the history of the Halo universe, but reading about it – involving yourself in the lives of these characters as the events happen – is another entirely. The Fall of Reach really coloured the events of Combat Evolved for me. It also gave the Human–Covenant war a greater resonance; a reader really feels what’s at stake for humanity, whereas, in the games, it’s just neat to blow stuff up.
For anyone with even a passing interest in the Halo universe, Halo: The Fall of Reach is essential reading. It could’ve been better, but it could’ve been a whole lot worse.