Hunters in the Dark by Peter David
The Halos have been activated, apparently from the damaged Ark itself. In a desperate effort to save all life in the galaxy, a team of Sangheili and human forces must push past old rivalries and wounds and prevent the firing of the array.
Being the newest addition to the Halo canon, Hunters in the Dark has plenty of possibilities for connection to other entries, as well as a great deal of responsibility. Not only is Hunters following up on the Sangheili-Human relations that were a major point in the first two Kilo-Five novels and the missions to the other Halo rings that were mentioned in Halo 4, but it also gives us the first solid characterizations of friends both old – Usze ‘Taham and N’tho ‘Sraom – and new – most notably Olympia Vale. As New Blood was for Buck and Halo Escalation: Glass Horizons was for Tanaka, 343 Industries may very well be relying on this book to help the fanbase accept this new character for Halo 5.
Peter David ensures that Vale is one of the most fully realized characters in the story, using her as the protagonist who meets the villain face-to-face. This initial encounter, along with the subsequent splitting of the party to rescue her, may feel initially like the tired damsel in distress trope combined with the even more frustrating depowering of a competent female character at the story’s climax. Fortunately this is not the case, as Vale’s words, actions, and agency are critical to the villain’s defeat.
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Usze’s introduction is taken almost word-for-word from Bungie’s profile released around Halo 3’s launch [x]. His first scene relies on the exposition of an opponent to provide his backstory. This more informs his combat capabilities than his actual character, which is fleshed out through his interactions with others, namely Vale. N’tho on the other hand has no direct reference to his Bungie profile, rather his “healthy respect for humanity” is shown through his interactions with humans, namely Kodiak [x].
While well-known characters such as Thel ‘Vadam, Terrence Hood, and Serin Osman take a side role to these leads, there are still hints of how character relations developed two years onward from the Kilo-Five trilogy. Glasslands saw Hood testing the waters with the future admiral of ONI – namely seeing if his interactions with Serin would be the same as they were with Admiral Margaret Parangosky:
“‘Are we going to have an interesting working relationship?’ He wasn’t hitting on her. He was asking her, in his elegant way, whether she was going to be as much of a pain in the ass for him as Parangosky when she finally got the top job.” (Glasslands, pp 354).
Interestingly enough, as the years have progressed, it appears that it is Hood who becomes the pain in Osman’s britches.
“…part of her hated to admit that Hood would bring something to the table that she couldn’t figure out on her own. She wondered if that was held over from her mentor and predecessor, Margaret Parangosky, who had a similar relationship with the man.”(Hunters, pp 38).
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Further annoyance comes to Osman when Hood insists on including the Arbiter in the recent catastrophe, another character who appears to have acquired the capacity to be a diplomatic pain. In Glasslands we heard Jul accuse Thel of being too concerned with “whether humans like him instead of exterminating them” (Glasslands, pp 392). Hunters refutes this claim rather roughly, when a diplomatic violation is declared by the UNSC as an act of war, the Arbiter’s response is to simply scoff and point out the illogic of engaging in armed conflict (Hunters¸ pp 320). While later years shows that he still seeks goodwill and peace between his forces and the UNSC, appeasement is not the end goal nor even a strategy as Jul seems to believe.
Events are also among the connections David makes to other Halo entries. The lost ship Rubicon is a critical plot point as they had left behind a crewmember after securing a “powerful intelligence – …something that proved unforgiving to its entire crew” (Hunters, pp 328). This is the same ship that provides the framework for Primordium’s tale, having found the remains of 343 Guilty Spark on the Ark.
Beyond direct reference, there are a number of homages in Hunters to key scenes in the games. Two homages come from Halo 3, which is no great surprise considering the basic plot and the leading Sangheili characters of the novel. The simplest of these is the deactivation of the Halo rings. Just as the Chief, Arbiter, and Johnson were provided a breath of contemplation before being set upon by the Flood, the characters in Hunters have a brief moment of victory and relief before the armigers attack.
A more subtle homage comes aboard the Mayhem, in which the bridge of a Sangheili ship is once again the locale of diplomatic tensions and military disagreements. As in Halo 3, this is the moment where Sangheili and human leaders come together to discuss the next move now that the portal is open. The UNSC side is reticent to enter the portal, Earth’s defense must come first. The Sangheili, on the other hand, is insistent on the necessity to move on the Ark immediately. With N’tho and Captain Annabelle Richards retaining the same stances as Rtas ‘Vadum and Terrence Hood, it is Luther who becomes both Miranda Keyes and John-117, siding with the Sangheili on the need to enter the portal. Within this conversation, even Richard’s argument regarding Earth’s importance “given the last thirty years [of war]” (pp 129) mirrors Hood’s lament: “Earth is all we have left.”
Halo 4’s influence is also found here, in a small moment between Spartan Frank Kodiak and N’tho towards the book’s end as they watch the Milky Way: an echo of Lasky’s quiet scene with the Master Chief as they stand and view Earth. After a moment of silence, N’tho speaks up to offer condolences towards the loss of Kodiak’s brother, condolences which are gently rebuffed. As N’tho tries to extend an apology towards the loss of Kodiak’s arm, he is again rebuffed, similar to the way that Lasky’s sympathies towards John-117 were turned down with talk of a soldier’s duty: “Kodiak shrugged. ‘As you said, it was war. Things happen in war’” (pp 352-353).
There are countless other references to events and characters throughout the book, available for any lore fan to pluck at. Importantly though, Hunters in the Dark still stands on its own as a novel. Despite the wealth of canon that it draws from, it’s not bogged down in references nor does it feel like a rip-off of other Halo media. No other Halo novel is required to understand or follow. Hunters in the Dark owns its story and owns its characters.
This is easily the most humorous Halo novel to-date. This doesn’t come from a quirky narrative style but rather the clash of characters and their personalities, which is the driving force of both the comedy and the story. David has a talent for setting up a joke early on, disguised as a dramatic reveal, only to have the punchline come around half a chapter later and from a different character’s perspective. In one notable case, he does the reverse, setting up Usze’s refusal to sit as a laughable interaction with Vale and later using the joke to establish a very sweet moment between the two.
Thematically, Hunters has a great deal in common with comic books and graphic novels. Considering David’s background, this makes sense and plays to his strengths. David is keen on providing visual cues as best he can for the reader and aims to imbue said visuals with certain emotions. Probably the best highlight for this is a comparison to The Cole Protocol by Tobias Buckell, as both grant a description of Vadam keep. The Cole Protocol, Vadam’s debut in the canon, describes the view from as insider looking out: “From the sides of Kolaar Mountain, the Vadam keep looked out towards Vadam harbor, thirty miles away” (Protocol, pp 90). The description is succinct and to-the-point, fitting for the point of view of someone who has lived their entire life there. Hunters in the Dark on the other hand is from Usze’s point of view, a first-time visitor to the Keep:
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“The region of Vadam was a valley leading into the harbor, and all the lands, homes, and properties that were a part of it were scattered about. The Arbiter’s keep was a large, castle-like fortress built into the base of the Kolaar Mountain. Usze had seen images of it and even the occasional etching, but never had the opportunity to visit it firsthand. It was a sprawling vista, and he wondered what it would have been like to grow up in such a glorious area. The white-capped mountains stretched towards the skies of Sanghelios as it they were caressing it, and there were expansive groves of trees all around” (Hunters, pp 60).
Again, the description and the emotions are all tied to the character and the personality. This allows for each character to have a distinct voice when the chapter is told from their viewpoint. Even in third person a number of traits shine through. N’tho always assumes the best of others, Usze expects the worst, and Richards always feels like she’s on a knife edge between success and disaster.
A core theme of Hunters in the Dark seems to be reconciliation. In contrast to the Kilo-Five trilogy, which highlighted where even the best intentions can fail, Hunters shows that conjoined efforts can push through deep-rooted animosity. Hunters also seems to stress that for reconciliation to work, there has to be a change of heart(s), not just outward appearances.
One of the opening chapters is Luther Mann’s recollection of the relationship with his mother. After a crack in their relationship when Luther was very young, it wasn’t until he was a teenager that things began to heal, or at least appear to. On his fifteenth birthday, his mother committed suicide with the note “I can’t pretend anymore” (pp 12). This disconnect between a character’s outward displays and inward motivations is where we find the fractures in the novel’s alliances, most notably in Kodiak’s behavior towards N’tho, N’tho’s abduction of Richards and UNSC personnel, and Vale’s debate with the Ark’s monitor. A lack of honesty places cracks in the foundation and deliberate efforts must be made to build that trust. For this alliance to work, neither side can afford pretense, a theme that David slips into the narrative from the very start.
In our textbook resource Genreflecting (7th edition), “Science fiction is defined as the literature of ‘what if.’ Author Philip K. Dick probably put it best: ‘The SF writer sees not just possibilities but while possibilities. It’s not just “what if” – it’s “My God; what if,” in frenzy and hysteria. The Martians are always coming’” (Genre, pp 340).
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In a sense, this hysteria of the impending Martian doom has been a part of the Halo universe for a long, long time, since its inception. There has always been the underlying thought that these aliens are “out to get us,” and for a while this was most definitely true. We’ve encountered our “dastardly Galactic Emperors” (pp 351) in many a form – the Hierarchs, the Didact, Imperial Admiral Xytan ‘Jar Wattinree, and Jul ‘Mdama. Even in Halo 3, the first story in which humanity was not alone in their fight, still had those “Martians” focused on our destruction. The Kilo-Five trilogy, while becoming embroiled in interspecies relations, still held tightly to the “what if?” of the Sangheili returning to end humanity.
This is why Hunters in the Dark is a new direction for the Halo universe and its place in science fiction. It still has one foot in the pool of Military SF, but the Galactic Emperor mentioned by Genreflecting is replaced with an ally in the Arbiter and the “weird aliens” are friendly from the beginning. There is tension between the two races and tension between the characters; there are moments when actions threaten the peace they have found, but the fear of “what if” is never the driving force or motivation.
Rather it’s a positive spin on the “what if?” What if these species were able to reconcile? What if they were capable of working together? What if humanity was no longer alone in this aggressive universe? This positive spin makes Hunters in the Dark the most optimistic of the Halo novels, and that’s very refreshing.