No, the world is not coming to an end and Hell has not frozen over. While I personally have not been a fan of the Kilo-Five trilogy (Glasslands, Thursday War, Mortal Dictata) by Karen Traviss, it would be remiss of me to say that there is nothing good about them. Granted, my idea of good is likely to be of considerably less quantity than the people who do enjoy the books outright. With that said I do feel I need to stress something: liking the Kilo-Five books should not be considered some crazy act within the fandom. While I do not share that same appreciation, I do at least enjoy seeing what reasons others have for liking something I may not like. I won’t always agree with the reasons and may even challenge them from time to time, but even being able to have such a discussion is a good thing.
So I’m going to put on my best suit, grab a red pitchfork, and be the best darn devil’s advocate I can be for the Kilo-Five trilogy. Take note that this article isn’t going to be like my standard fare. I don’t have a central topic that I am going to analyze. Instead, it’s going to be essentially a list with small chunks of remarks for however many positive things I manage to record. I’ll be honest, I’m going to be pretty broad with things I consider positive. This may include characters, worlds, factions, technology, or anything concrete from the books to ideas the books attempt to advance but maybe falters in the execution. It’s my intention that by the end of the article I’ll have struck some common ground with fans of the books while perhaps offering some interesting new perspectives for its detractors. Anyway, let’s begin:
One – The idea of an Office of Naval Intelligence black ops team navigating a post-war galaxy is a good one.
It’s not a big secret that the team members of Kilo-Five did not win me over when I started their journey in 2011’s Glasslands and that didn’t improve when it ended in 2014’s Mortal Dictata. Admittedly, it was mostly because of the character Vaz Beloi and his insistence on being the chief source of criticism and hatred towards Dr. Catherine Halsey on the team. His behavior was understandable, but after three books of it with him never getting past it and realizing the cog in a much larger machine that Halsey was in, I got bored quickly. The rest of the team was either mediocre to actually enjoyable. I’d rather not have this become a rant, so I’ll leave it at that.
Having said all that, I think it is entirely realistic that such a team would exist, especially one under the umbrella of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Plenty of Covenant splinter factions roamed the galaxy in the post-Halo 3 years as well as resurgent insurrectionist activity. A dedicated team willing to do questionable activities in the name of protection for humanity was a great idea. While Kilo-Five’s execution may not have sat well with a number of fans, I feel the role they were originally meant to play has since been taken up by a new black ops team to better acclaim: the Spartan-III Ferrets under the command of Veta Lopis. So while Kilo-Five didn’t pan out I can at least be grateful they set the stage for the introduction of a new team that did the concept they were meant to fulfill justice.
Two – Some interesting insights into Sangheili culture and society.
I realize this will be a contentious point, especially since the trilogy did much to further the idea that the Sangheili were backward in nearly all areas outside of combat. Certainly, I understand why such an idea caught on since the Sangheili played the role of warriors in Covenant society and as such areas like science wouldn’t be their lot in life. I still felt that it was unrealistic that they’d have no scientists or any role that wasn’t strictly focused on making fighters. Newer canon has done much to rectify this with Sangheili factories and corporations beings the major source of development for vehicles, armor, and weapons used by the Swords of Sanghelios, Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant and other groups.
However, Kilo-Five did provide small details about the Sangheili that I don’t consider bad. On the minor end, you have the difference of smell between male and female Sangheili being described as having a leathery scent for males and “clean feathers” for females. Perhaps a silly detail, but it’s an inoffensive one. Female Sangheili were also shown to be the ones who truly run the homelife for a Sangheili family. Unlike males, female Sangheili were revealed to have knowledge of their bloodlines and could choose who they wanted to mate with. Sangheili children are typically raised by maternal uncles so as not to have privilege instilled in them. Even Jul ‘Mdama was called uncle by his own son Dural to continue this drive for equal footing. Both male and female Sangheili are taught to fight in case the home needs to be defended. Sadly, this was made clear during a segment in Thursday War where Phillips gets roped into helping to defend Nes’alun keep from opportunistic raiders. The keep’s defenders were women and children.
The symbolism of the arum was another welcome insight into the Sangheili mindset. An arum was a puzzle-like device crafted to reflect the Sangheili social system. Arum’s could only be solved when spheres within the device were perfectly matched in their place, likewise the keep system that the Sangheili utilized needed to be obeyed to create harmony. Family keeps answered to town keeps and they answered to city keeps and so on. Definitely, a creative way to instill in the Sangheili youth the proper order of things and perhaps remind adults as well.
Three – Venezia, the perfect hive of scum and villainy.
I realize I could be accused of technically cheating with the first two things I mentioned. Liking a black ops team as a concept isn’t exactly that revolutionary and I’m sure a Sangheili expert could note if anything mentioned in the Kilo-Five books was mentioned in prior books. However, Venezia is something I can gush over from the Kilo-Five books without liking the concept more than the execution. For years the insurrectionists in the Halo universe have gotten a pretty bum deal. While the rebels of the Rubble and individuals like Col. Robert Watts and Lyrenne Castilla brought some depth to their activities, they came off as little more than terrorists. With Venezia, however, we actually got to see a society of outlaws, rogues, and troublemakers develop without the United Earth Government being able to interfere too much.
During the Human-Covenant War, Venezia cut all ties to the United Earth Government and established its independence. Ever since then Venezia grew as a place where humans, and even former Covenant client species, could find an escape from authority. While the “government” of the planet seems to be little more than the militia and common decency, humans, Unggoy, Jiralhanae, Kig-Yar, and even Sangheili manage to co-exist with only the minor scuffle as a consequence. Personally, while it is a planet of pirates and rebels, it was refreshing to a have a parallel of inter-species cooperation alongside the more xenophobic beliefs seem on Sanghelios and Earth. Yes, it would make sense that individuals on both sides would still harbor resentment, but not everybody would and it was nice to see that play out.
Ever since the Kilo-Five trilogy we’ve seen Venezia keep on appearing in other works. Rion Forge had set up a clearinghouse of salvaged goods on the planet. Veta Lopis and her Ferret team conducted an operation there. Venezia support was even granted to Arlo Casille in his bid for the world of Gao’s independence from the UEG and UNSC. I hope we see more of this rough world in the future.
Four – Staffan Sentzke, part-time family man, full-time rebel.
Speaking of rebels, the character of Staffan Sentzke was one such character who was a notable highlight for me. He was an interesting blend of a family man and insurrectionist. At home, he loved his family and supported them as much as he could. At “work”, he was busy making deals buying weapons and ultimately secured a Covenant battlecruiser. What drove him? A belief that the government had kidnapped his daughter and the child recovered and passed off as his was not who she really was. The crazy thing? He was right.
In another twist, Staffan was the father of Naomi-010, one of the legendary Spartan-II super soldiers. Days before Naomi’s birthday, Naomi vanished and a frantic Staffan and the local community tried to find her. Eventually, she was found but something did not seem right to him about the little girl (in truth a flash clone) who was returned to him. Despite his beliefs, he still treated her as compassionately as he could even when she began to deteriorate. Blamed as a genetic disorder, Staffan’s wife Lena sterilized herself and committed suicide. While he would remarry, he never gave up his pursuit of the truth about his daughter. Staffan’s tragic background forged him into the rebel leader we catch up to in the trilogy and while he gave up that life by the trilogy’s conclusion, I would not be surprised if we see him again. The Kilo-Five team only reported him dead after all.
Five – Expanding the role of Huragok in the post-war setting.
So this part of the Kilo-Five trilogy that I like comes with some reservations. For one, the sheer miracles that the Huragok are able to perform at times throughout the trilogy do border on the eyebrow-raising. Being able to repair a portal system on Onyx? Yeah, I can buy that easy. Being able to slap a slipspace on a Pelican or Spirit dropship? That never quite sat right with me. Still, it was good to see the Huragok actually make a significant contribution to the canon again after First Strike and Contact Harvest, which was really the last time they factored so heavily in a story. Yes, I know they played a role in Ghosts of Onyx, but that was a small part involving the NOVA Bomb.
Giving the Huragok an actual language, though it involves making signing gestures with their tentacles, was a neat detail. Sure, it would eventually be overridden with voice boxes, but the scene where Black-Box used holographic tentacles to communicate was pretty hilarious. I also enjoyed seeing how emphatic the Huragok could be. Having one of the Huragok understand that Lucy had experienced significant trauma in the past that prevented her from speaking was touching. Even Staffan gets his own moment when his willingness to placate a Huragok on the Pious Inquisitor by not targeting Forerunner ruins on a nearby planet with the ship’s glassing beam earns him the status of true Reclaimer. Then, of course, we have that mystery about Huragok vanishing to parts to unknown that, as far as I know, hasn’t been solved yet and even extends to the Halo Legendary Crates data drops.
So there you have it folks. I apologize for it not being a massive list brimming with detail, but like I said the Kilo-Five books were never really my favorites. The great things they did are few and far between. But, if you enjoyed the books I hope I was able to bridge some common ground and if you don’t like the books I hope I provided some things for you to rethink.
“When the game is over, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.”