Book Review – The Kilo Five Trilogy by Karen Traviss
While reading the Kilo-Five trilogy all I could think of was, why haven’t I read this earlier? Halo 4 would have made better, if still not complete, sense and because it’s such a well written and satisfying read. So, naturally, I thought to myself, why not write a big ass article that no one will ever read? I love doing that!
Warning: If you haven’t read any of the books and plan on doing so, I would recommend that you don’t read this article now, but rather after. There will be Spoilers. In case you are not interested in reading them, this article could give you an overview of what the books are about, so that you can shine in the next Halo lore discussion.
Karen Traviss is an english author who also wrote for the Gears of War and the Star Wars series. She is the first female author to have written a book in the Halo series. The only other woman is Kelly Gay, whose book „Smoke and Shadow“ was released in 2016.
The Kilo-Five trilogy follows a variety of interesting characters, some that we already know, some that we meet for the first time and is set after the Human-Covenant War, directly after the book „Ghost of Onyx“ ends and after the events of Halo: 3.
I will be giving a short overview on Glasslands, the first book because all the characters are introduced here. From then on I will only write about some of the events in the books. So let’s head into it.
Picking off where Ghost of Onyx ends, Glasslands begins with Halsey, Mendez, Olivia and Tom, Fred, Linda, Team Saber and Team Katana (still in Cryo), trapped in the remnants of the collapsed planet Onyx. More specifically, in the Dyson Sphere, a Forerunner shield world which is locked in a slipspace bubble. From the outside, this bubble is a tiny speck within the universe and very hard to find. Inside, everything is normal sized. The Dyson Sphere was built by the Forerunners as kind of a safe house in case the Halo array was fired.
The trapped group searches the sphere for food and rescue. During that search, we witness conversations between Halsey and Mendez who fight over the moral issues of the Spartan program, Halsey’s regrets, and motivation.
The other plot story of this book revolves around Team Kilo-Five which is formed by Parangosky, head of ONI, to deal with the Elites who still oppose a threat to Earth. She fears that mankind is still in danger even after the end of the war and the peace treaty. Kilo-Five consists of Serin Osman, who is a former Spartan II who washed out during the program. Over time she became the successor to Parangosky. Then we have Professor Phillips, a specialist in Sangheili linguistics, three ODST’s (Vaz, Mal, and Devereux), Spartan II Naomi and of course Blackbox aka BB, the AI.
On the Elite side, we get to know several characters who play a big role later in the books. One being Telcam, a religious former shipmaster who is now head of the servants of the Abiding Truth. They believe that Thel Vadam, the Arbiter, has made a bad deal with mankind and has betrayed the beliefs of the Sangheili. He is accompanied by Jul Mdama, who is also against the Arbiter and his plans.
Meanwhile, on the Dyson Sphere, the group discovers a structure. Within it, they find Huragoks that were placed there for maintenance by the Forerunners ages ago. With the help of the Huragoks, they are able to make contact with the outside world.
This is where Glasslands ends.
The Thursday War is the book where the character of Jul Mdama is built. A character that is killed off in the first campaign chapter of Halo 5. I will write about that later. Jul ends up on the Dyson Sphere after being captured by Naomi during a weapons drop with Telcam. The UNSC is giving weapons to the Abiding Truth to feed a civil war within Sangheilios. Their plan is to keep the Sangheili distracted with a civil war so that they are unable to concentrate on getting back to their former technological power. During this book, Jul tries to escape the Sphere which is now called Trevelyan in honor of Kurt Trevelyan, Spartan II, who gave is life at the end of Ghost of Onyx. Eventually, Jul succeeds with the forced help of the Huragok Prone to Drift. Jul also learns on Trevelyan that the Ur-Didact may still be alive on Requiem. What struck me the most here was how much empathy I developed towards Jul. So far my opinion about Elites was ‚kill those bastards‘. After reading The Thursday War I will never encounter an Elite without considering that he or she has a family as well. Jul’s thoughts about humanity and what is right and wrong is very interesting. In this book, we also learn more about Jul’s wife Raia, a fearless woman who joins Telcam in search of Jul. This is very uncommon in Sangheili society. Women are usually in charge of the keeps and don’t go out with the warriors.
In Mortal Dictada, the last book of the trilogy, we experience the tremendous pain of the parents that lost a child to ONI and the Spartan program. Karen Traviss tells us the story of Staffan Sentzke, the father of Spartan Naomi. She was, as we all know, abducted when she was 6 years old.
No other book or story has done this so far. I mean, tell the story from the perspective of the parents who lost a child. At least as far as I know. The book starts with exactly the moment when Staffan and his wife are waiting for their daughter to get back home. To witness this horrible tragedy told from Staffan’s point of view is really intense: From carelessness, minding his own business, to wondering where his daughter is, to worrying and trying to explain her absence, to utter fear, to searching frantically everywhere, to facing his worst fears, to anger, to hopelessness.
All this was felt by every family who fell victim to this crime.
In the end, Staffan can’t go on living like before. His wife commits suicide and the clone is long dead as well. Staffan ends up on Venezia, an Insurrectionist community, that was a scene in the previous books as well. Sentzke gets his hands on a Sangheili battlecruiser, sold to him by a Kig-Yar.
Kilo-Five is sent to Venezia to get hold of the cruiser and to keep Staffan from taking revenge on Earth. Vaz and Mal try to infiltrate Staffans organization and while they first succeed they end up being captured. After Naomi frees them, she is confronted with her father who was with Vaz at that time. He is captured and Naomi and he meet for the first time. This is a very tough scene as well. You can relate so much to both their struggles and feelings. It is really well written.
From then on the events spiral towards the big final which takes place on the Covenant battlecruiser.
The trilogy gives so much insight to the motivation of characters that we didn’t know much of before. It addresses the big elephant in the room of the Halo franchise: How the fuck is it ok to abduct children, replace them with clones and make them into war machines?
I wished I had read the trilogy before playing Halo 4 because then I would have been able to understand the plot. The UNSC Infinity, for example, is first introduced in the books and I loved that part so much. The grandness of this ship is described so well. And of course Jul Mdama. When he was killed off in the first campaign chapter of Halo 4, I had no clue about him. Imagine! What a great character he was! They could have done so much more with him and if they had to kill him off, at least, have the decency to give him a grand battle and some final words or something. Instead, he was just mindlessly slaughtered by damn Locke. Or was it Locke? I don’t even remember.
Karen Traviss brings a female aspect to the series. She gives the reader more in-depth studies of character, therefore creating more empathy in the reader. She shows the emotional sides and sheds light on the moral questions in the Halo universe. As a female reader, I could very much relate to this style. It was a welcoming change and a different read. The character of Raia was also very interesting. So far I did not know much about female Sangheili. That changed with the trilogy.
The evolution of the Kilo-Five Team is another fascinating part. From a band of strangers to close friends who rely on each other and value each other very much. The quirky BB adds so much wit and humor, he really is a bad ass character. And as we have seen in Cortana, as well as in BB now, is the confusion that is created for the AI’s when they are in close contact with humans. Artificial intelligence meets human emotions. BB often wonders about said emotions and sometimes feels like he can almost feel it himself. That is what we know of Cortana too.
I was also impressed by the picture Traviss drew of Sangheilios. The different factions after the peace treaty and what the war did to this proud warrior species. The fact that the Sangheili were thrown back to a rural time where they had to farm their own fields because the Unggoy/Jiralhanae were mostly gone. I would love to read a whole book about the everyday life of all the species in the Halo franchise. For real.
Now to conclude my review I challenge myself to pick only 5 words to describe what the Kilo-Five trilogy is about: Friendship, Morals, Ethics, Loss, and Love.