Halo: Cryptum Review
Halo: Cryptum by Greg Bear kicks off the Forerunner saga, the tale of who the Forerunners were and what happened to them one hundred thousand years prior to Halo: Combat Evolved. In the Halo universe, the Forerunners created the infamous Halos and several relics and temples that the Covenant does its best to keep away from human hands and knowledge. From the games, very little is known of the Forerunners until Halo 4, when Master Chief meets both the Didact and the Librarian. Up to that point, players only knew that the Forerunners were an ancient, long extinct race of aliens who were far more technologically advanced than both the humans and the Covenants. They also feared the Flood so much, they built the Halos to destroy all sentient life to prevent the Flood from spreading across the galaxy. For the first time, we get a glimpse into the Forerunners’ lives, what really happened during the Human-Forerunner war the Librarian referenced, and possibly where they went with Cryptum.
Cryptum stars one very young Forerunner, a Manipular named Bornstellar Makes Eternal Lasting (and you thought the Covenant’s names for their ships were ecclesiastical and long winded), who decides to go on an adventure for treasure against his father’s wishes and ends up releasing the Didact from his cryptum. The Didact was exiled a thousand years prior for disagreeing with the Forerunner Council’s decision to build the Halos over the Didact’s idea of constructing Shield Worlds as a method to protect them all from the Flood. Once Bornstellar set the Didact free, his life was literally never the same again, and his actions set in motion the downfall of the Forerunner Council amongst other spoilerrific details.
Cryptum merely sets the stage for what is to come in the Forerunner saga, and as such, it does leave one finishing the book whilst scratching his or her head in confusion. It’s only worse if you played Halo 4 before reading the book, as nothing the Librarian tells Master Chief lines up with Bornstellar’s account of the Forerunner war with the humans. However, I am reserving judgment until the tale is complete, as I can also see everything snapping into place at the very end. At least, that’s what I hope. If not, I guess I’ll be writing another Halo dissertation.
But back to Cryptum…
The prose is unlike any other writing style I have seen. It’s written completely from Bornstellar’s first-person point-of-view, and as Bornstellar is this incredibly intelligent, advanced alien, the style is very high-brow and aloof. Imagine if a high fantasy book was written from the point of view of a traditional Tolkien elf–you’re already bored, right? At times, it felt like Bornstellar was talking down to me, and that may very well be what he was doing. I am just a human, after all. As a result, however, I have found the Forerunners to be really snobby creatures, and not one of them has seemed likeable–not even the Librarian. It’s difficult to enjoy a book in full when there are zero characters you find amicable.
If the condescending tone doesn’t bore you, then the pace of the plot will. Since this is the first book in this series, and it sets up a whole new world in the Halo universe, the story moves quite slowly, even for a race of beings who live for thousands of years. I often felt like I had to force myself to read it, and each time I picked it up, I uttered a short prayer that the story would pick up just a little bit. It does, mind you, but not until the last five chapters or so.
Thus far, it seems like the Forerunner saga really is for diehard Halo fans only, and as such, I already have added the second book in the series to my collection. Surely it will move faster than the first. I’m sure it will still talk down to me just as much. I may take a break with the Warhammer 40K novels if it gets to be too much, because even those aren’t as high-brow as Cryptum.