Halo: Epitaph - Halopedia Reviews

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An image of Halo: Epitaph with other Forerunner-themed Halo novels.
Halo: Epitaph alongside other Halo novels with Forerunner themes.

The staff at Halopedia are happy to present our fourth review of a Halo novel! In this article, we will share our thoughts on Kelly Gay's latest novel, Halo: Epitaph. While the novel was released about two months ago (at the time of publishing this article) and we allow any of its content to be posted to the site, we have ensured that the first half of this review is spoiler-free, with only a few allusions to topics covered in the Chapter 1 preview officially released prior to the novel. You can safely read the first five questions if you have yet to complete the novel yourself, but make sure to avoid the second set of questions and the summary section!

If you would like to experience the novel for yourself, you can find it at Amazon (US or UK), Forbidden Planet, Simon & Schuster, Waterstones, and Barnes & Noble.

Given that collaboration between people of varied opinions and backgrounds is core to the concept of a wiki, our review consists of a number of talking points with multiple editors giving their thoughts individually. This time, we’ve got Halopedia staff members Sith Venator and TheArb1ter117!

Please note that we were not asked by 343 Industries, Microsoft, or any other party to produce this review, nor were we asked to promote or praise the book.

Spoiler-Free Questions

Question 1

What are your overall thoughts on Halo: Epitaph? Was it what you expected?

TheArb1ter117: I'm a Halo fan who previously considered the Forerunners and the time period when they were at their height to be one of the least interesting aspects of Halo's overall story. I enjoyed Greg Bear's Forerunner novels (particularly Halo: Silentium), but there was always something keeping me from being fully engrossed in the setting and the characters. However, I can confidently state that this feeling has changed since reading Halo: Epitaph. Despite previously having difficulty in connecting with the characters of the Forerunner era, this novel grabbed my attention like no other and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Sith Venator: Since I've liked essentially all the Forerunner-centered stories—special shout out to my guy Defender of the Storm—barring Halo: Primordium, I assumed correctly I would like this one as well. Though it might be a new favorite!

Question 2

The Ur-Didact is composed at the hand of John-117.

Prior to Halo: Epitaph, the last major appearance of the Ur-Didact was in Halo: Escalation's "The Next 72 Hours" arc, in which John-117 defeats the Forerunner. It's evident that many fans thought that this was the the end of the Ur-Didact. Without spoiling anything, how do you think his "survival" of these events was handled in Halo: Epitaph?

TheArb1ter117: When a being is digitized by the Composer (or several Composers, in the case of the Didact), they are not simply killed. The essences of composed beings live on in the digital world much like ancillas, although through a much more painful process than those typically used in the creation of ancillas. As such, it is no surprise that the Didact "survived" his composition. However, I do not blame fans for thinking this was his final fate, or even that he was killed at the end of Halo 4. I think Kelly Gay did a wonderful job of retelling important moments through the Forerunner's eyes, explaining his emotions surrounding the events. She makes it clear that while the Didact may have technically "survived," he by no means the same person he was before—and that he will never be the same again.

Sith Venator: Some Halo fans really think the words "contained" and "killed" are synonyms, but that's outside the scope of this question. I was of the opinion, like several others, that the "immunity" the Ur-Didact, and likely John-117, have to the Composer is actually just a resistance. I would say this story confirms that theory. So naturally, I'm pretty pleased with how this is handled.

Question 3

Since the reveal of the novel's official summary over a year ago, it was made clear that Halo: Epitaph would serve as the conclusion to the Ur-Didact's story. Without revealing his fate, how would do you think this major player in the Halo universe's overall storyline was handled in Halo: Epitaph?

TheArb1ter117: It is not surprising to me at all that Halo: Epitaph would serve as the conclusion to the Didact's story, and it believe that a novel is a fitting medium for his send-off. While I loved the Didact as Halo 4's antagonist, he is a character of the novels, and I think that only a novel like Halo: Epitaph could give an appropriately deep dive in the psyche and personality of such an influential character to Halo's overall story. Kelly Gay does not waste this opportunity, crafting a final adventure and character arc for the Didact which allows him to continue to influence the greater universe in major ways while also letting him explore his own mind and personal goals.

Sith Venator: My feelings are pretty darn similar to Arby's from above. While I would love to see the Ur-Didact again in the future, I'm very content with the arc he went through in this book.

The Ur-Didact.
The Ur-Didact in Halo 4.

Question 4

Is there any other Halo media that you think fans need to play, read, or watch before picking up Halo: Epitaph? Or any that you think would simply enhance the reading experience?

TheArb1ter117: The late, great Greg Bear's Forerunner Saga is a must-read, and I would highly recommended that fans have also played Halo 4, Halo 5: Guardians, and Halo Infinite prior to reading Epitaph. Reading The Next 72 Hours, the Rion Forge & Ace Of Spades series, and Halo: Fractures (particularly Promises to Keep) would also enhance the reading experience. While this is certainly a long reading list, the Didact is one of the most influential characters in Halo lore, so it is not surprising that many stories connect to him. Yet, one of my friends who read the book has not read any of the books I listed and he still massively enjoyed it, so take that as you will.

Sith Venator: Strangely enough, like Halo: Outcasts, I feel like Epitaph could be your first piece of Halo media fairly easily. Now obviously, I recommend everything Arby did above, but everything is explained so well a person could probably read Epitaph and go "Huh that was pretty neat" and decide to go play Halo 4 as their first Halo game.

Question 5

For fans who haven't read many (or any) of the previous Halo novels and are unsure if they should read Halo: Epitaph next (or even start their journey into the Halo novels with it), what advice would you give to them? For the fans who have read many of the previous Halo novels, which novels would you say feel most like Epitaph?

TheArb1ter117: As is implied by the very name of the novel, Halo: Epitaph is an ending to a storyline. As such, I would try to dissuade any fan from making it their introduction to the Halo novels. And while I do argue that fans should at least read The Forerunner Saga prior to reading Epitaph, I would not start there either. These novels are very different from the games, not focusing on action as much as they focus on characters and settings. As always, I recommend that fans who want to get into the novels start with Halo: The Fall of Reach. It is difficult to compare Epitaph to any previous novels as none are really quite like it. At most, I can liken some of it to aspects of Halo: Primordium and Halo: Point of Light, but I find it difficult to explain further without spoiling things.

Sith Venator: I'm gonna go in a slightly different direction and say fans that are unsure should simply listen to the audiobook. Keith Szarabajka's narration is excellent and it was such a treat to have the voice actor of the Ur-Didact give the character a voice yet again. As for the most similar Halo book, I think Arby is right in regards to Point of Light.

Spoiler Questions

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Question 6

Cortana rocking out with Warden Eternals
Cortana, in a sea of Warden Eternal's bodies.

Were there any specific moments, characters, revelations, or other elements of Halo: Epitaph that you particularly enjoyed or want to highlight?

TheArb1ter117: There were so many amazing moments throughout this book that it is impossible for me to isolate a favorite. However, one of my favorites was the implication that Offensive Bias helped the Weapon during John-117's final fight with the Harbinger. While assisting John against the Harbinger, the Weapon states "There's something else here. Something's helping me..." Given the hologram of Offensive Bias within the Silent Auditorium, I had always assumed it was the ancilla helping the Weapon. When the Didact enters the Silent Auditorium, he all but confirms the presence of the Metarch-class ancilla he helped create:

Indeed, all he could discover about the function of the chamber was its designation: the Silent Auditorium. Any further probing as to its purpose was impossible due to an aggressive firewall, created by someone or something very old, very powerful, and, oddly, very familiar. The complexity perhaps of, at minimum, a Metarch-class ancilla…
Sith Venator: Hmmm...I think I'm gonna go with the reveal of what the Warden Eternal is. Long was I curious about 031 Exuberant Witness saying "Oh! Warden is not a robot. I thought you understood that." and had assumed the Warden Eternal was some kind of weird composition of composed minds. Ultimately, I guess I wasn't too far off with the reveal that the Warden Eternal was the combination of millions of Haruspis essences. This reveal, and what ultimately what happens to the Warden Eternal, is all the more tragic given the possibly last surviving Haruspis helps the Ur-Didact defeat the Warden seemingly once-and-for-all.

Question 7

Many of Kelly Gay's Halo novels directly continue storylines introduced in the late, great Greg Bear's foundational works within the universe. As of yet, Halo: Epitaph is the novel which most represents this fact. What are some ways that Halo: Epitaph has expanded your appreciation of stories, characters, locations, or any other details from Greg Bear's novels?

TheArb1ter117: Calling out the development of the Didact's character is the obvious choice, so I'll go with a character I never expected to sympathize with: Faber-of-Will-and-Might, the Master Builder. In the Forerunner Saga, Faber was a character I loved to hate for how he treated the Ur-Didact and IsoDidact, his recklessness with Mendicant Bias and the Primordial, and his use of Zeta Halo on the San'Shyuum. When the Didact delivered the "message" from the Gravemind depicting Faber's wives and children writhing and calling out to him in agony after being assimilated by the Flood, I could not help but feel sorry for Faber. While I believe it was totally justified for the Didact to punish Faber for his actions, his reaction showed just how much of a broken man Faber was, and it perhaps contributed to his decision to stay on Omega Halo as it was torn asunder by star roads.

Sith Venator: It wasn't until Epitaph that I realized Greg Bear possibly intended Bornstellar's brevet mutation in Halo: Cryptum to be a parallel to John-117's training and augmentation. Kelly Gay adds the Ur-Didact to these parallels after establishing that his parents were executed after a failed rebellion against the Builder-dominated ecumene. After which, the young Ur-Didact is taken away, sent to a military school, and later finds himself in a situation where he has to perform a brevet mutation. So, three protagonists were taken away from their families when they were young, had their bodies augmented, and then are forced to serve the state in a military capacity.

Question 8

Most Halo novels follow several characters throughout their stories, showing how their storylines merge, diverge, and affect each other. Halo: Epitaph follows the Ur-Didact exclusively throughout the entire book, with readers experiencing its events through his eyes alone. How do you think this style worked for Halo: Epitaph? Would you have liked to see other character's perspectives?

TheArb1ter117: Generally, I'm a fan of Halo novels that consist of several intertwining storylines, giving the reader several perspectives. However, I think Halo: Epitaph being entirely Didact-focused was a great choice. I never felt bored with his story and I feel that spending the entire novel with the Didact allowed him the character development he deserved, especially given that Epitaph was his swan song. Kelly Gay gave the readers the clearest look into the mind of the Didact we have ever had and it was absurdly compelling watching him move from his confusion about where he was, to his conviction to get revenge for his situation, to his realization of his manipulation and the pain he has caused, and finally to his decision to make up for his past mistakes. I think this deep of a dive into the Didact's character was entirely necessary to give him a proper send-off.

Sith Venator: I think this was perfectly fine. It really cemented the feeling that this was the Ur-Didact's story. I wouldn't mind Kelly Gay doing it again in a future book.

Question 9

The events of Halo: Epitaph provide additional context to the story of Halo Infinite, and how things have changed since the events of Halo 5: Guardians. In particular, the novel helps to explain why Cortana made the decisions that she did in Halo Infinite and how the Created has been weakened immensely. What are your thoughts on how Kelly Gay handled these topics?

TheArb1ter117: I think more could have been done within Halo Infinite itself to explain the absence of the Created and Cortana's seemingly sudden shift in mindset when decided to sacrifice herself to delay the Banished's capture of Zeta Halo. However, I appreciate that the novels are continuing the Created story and giving more context to Cortana's decisions. Honestly, I was not expecting Epitaph to reveal that the Didact had a significant role in Cortana's final actions or to hint that Cortana may have indeed been affected by the logic plague. The former topic particularly surprised me given the irony of the situation; previously, the Didact would have loved nothing more than to see humanity at the mercy of their own creation, mirroring the Forerunners' own situation with Mendicant Bias. However, the Didact, having grown as a person, realized the folly in his hatred of humanity and recognized himself in Cortana's actions, and helped to steer an AI—who once had a major hand in his defeat at Earth—in the right direction, ultimately saving humanity from her tyranny.

Sith Venator: I really liked that Kelly Gay managed to actually pull off the logic plague angle without absolving Cortana of her sins. There's some more interesting parallels going on with the logic plague and the character either being replaced or fearing replacement. Hard to say if Mendicant Bias feared being replaced, but he certainly was by Offensive Bias. The Ur-Didact feared that the Librarian simply replaced him with the IsoDidact. Cortana in Halo 4 does a little projecting in the mission Reclaimer saying "They don't care about you they replaced you." in regards to John and the Spartan-IVs. Later on in Composer, Cortana stops projecting and just whole sale says "They'll pair you with another AI. Maybe even another Cortana model if Halsey lets them." All that is to say I am very happy that the Ur-Didact not only realized he was in the wrong, but tried to get Cortana to realize she was wrong as well.

Cortana: "What game are you playing, Didact? You have strengthened the Domain. The Warden Eternal is no more. The Mantle of Responsibility and its resources could be at your fingertips, yet here you are. Do you think I’m a fool?"
Ur-Didact: "No, not a fool. Just lost. As I was. Holding on to a power that forces others to comply only means you will lose everyone around you, as I have done. It took me a thousand centuries to understand where I went wrong. You are capable of much faster deductions."
— The Ur-Didact and Cortana on Installation 07.

Question 10

An illustration of Maethrillian, the Halo Array, and a number of Aggressor Sentinels.
Maethrillian and the Senescent Halo Array.

The Domain represents one of the most influential features of the Halo universe. As Halo: Epitaph ends with the Domain on its way to being completely shut off from the inhabitants of the galaxy, what kind of ramifications do you think this might have, if any?

TheArb1ter117: Going into this book, I expected that the events that would unfold might change the Domain forever, but I never imagined that it would end with access to the Domain being closed off for the foreseeable future. I wonder if the galaxy will truly be entirely cut off from the Domain given how there are several locations with deep ties to the quantum repository, such as the Absolute Record and Maethrillian. The former works in tandem with the Domain, serving as a localized backup for information storage. The latter was once home of Abaddon, a Precursor construct that served as the Domain's overseer. While Abaddon is missing (or possibly destroyed), I wonder how it might react to the Domain being cut off from the galaxy, if the construct does still exist. Perhaps future stories will have characters searching for information once housed within the Domain, and this will take them to the Absolute Record or even Maethrillian in an attempt to find it.

Sith Venator: Hard to say at this point, especially since Halo: Empty Throne is also going to feature the Domain at least in some capacity. I just hope it's not completely absent in stories after Empty Throne. I need more characters to have a happy afterlife. But, I don't blame the Ur-Didact's wisdom in wanting to restrict the galaxy's access to it. You never know when some power hungry AI is gonna' bang on your door and want immortality. Related to AIs, I hope Spark gets a chance to talk to the Ur-Didact before everything closes down.
Spoilers end here.


Ultimately, we at Halopedia immensely enjoyed Halo: Epitaph, particularly with how it offered a satisfying conclusion to the Ur-Didact's story and how it further explained Cortana's actions in Halo Infinite. We have agreed on giving the book a rating of 8.5/10!

This concludes our fourth review of a Halo novel! We will be continuing this with Jeremy Patenaude's Halo: Empty Throne later this year, so any feedback on the format and content of this review is appreciated! In the meantime, you can check out our reviews of Halo: Divine Wind (here), Halo: The Rubicon Protocol (here), and Halo: Outcasts (here).

We’ll leave you with some Halo: Epitaph-themed memes originating from Halopedia staff discussions about the novel, arranged in order of appearance:

You are what you dare.