Top critical review
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on 10 April 2015
This is the third in the Kilo 5 trilogy of books and by some considerable margin, the worst. Glasslands (book 1) struggled to get going whilst continuing the story at the end of Ghosts of Onyx, but got there in the end. The Thursday War (book 2) kicked off an Elite civil war and is the best book in the series.
And then we get to Mortal Dictata. It's a strange book in that a number of plot threads built up in its predecessors are completely ignored and the story instead switches its whole focus to anti-Earth 'militant' Stefan Sentzke. I use the term loosely as Karen Traviss paints him as more of a poor doting grandfather with no real axe to grind. It's really poorly done and undermines all that has gone before, especially his portrayal as a merciless UNSC-killing terrorist up until that point. A lot of time is spent on his backstory, which is fine, but it doesn't go anywhere. I think you're supposed to feel sorry for him and his family, but what of his supposed victims? Why is it so black and white?
The trilogy is set between Halo 3 and 4. The Thursday War set-up characters and situations clearly heading in the direction of Halo 4 (as a good number of characters appear in the main campaign and Spartan Ops) but this is all completely dropped in Mortal Dictata, which I found very strange and very disappointing as it could have set-up the continuation of the Master Chief's story nicely.
Then there's the ret-conning of Elizabeth Halsey's past and character. I know a lot of other reviewers here have picked up on this and I can only agree. Sure, she has her bad points and has been involved in a very morally dubious military programme, but she has never, ever been treated with such outright hatred within the Halo universe as her character is here. Perhaps this is down to 343, but I think Traviss gets carried away and it spoils the book. Constantly being bashed over the head with how evil she is (the fact Halsey is part of a much bigger organisation and has clearly followed orders is largely ignored) and what the members of Kilo 5 would do to her gets really tiresome.
All of the Kilo 5 books have struggled with a lack of action, and this book is the worst. It's honestly just boring and Traviss' habit of telling us what everybody is thinking or going to say all the time gets irritating and repetitive. More dialogue would have quickened the pace, as would more story elements. As it is, Mortal Dictata is a slog.
As this is a book based on a videogame, you can't expect much. The Halo novels are not consistent by any means, but this is the worst I've read. I had stuck with the trilogy all the way through, as the first two books aren't great but they held my interest. Now I wish I hadn't bothered.