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Halo: The Rubicon Protocol - Halopedia Reviews

From Halopedia, the Halo wiki

The cover of Halo: The Rubicon Protocol.

Following up on our promise to make this a regular series, we at Halopedia are happy to present our second ever review of a Halo novel. In this article, we will share our thoughts Kelly Gay's latest novel, Halo: The Rubicon Protocol. While the novel was released nearly two months ago (at the time of posting) and we allow any of its content to be posted to the site, we have ensured that the first half of the review is spoiler-free, so you can safely read the first five questions if you have yet to complete the novel yourself!

If you would like to experience the novel for yourself, you can find it at Amazon (US or UK), Forbidden Planet, Simon & Schuster, Waterstones, 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 JackVibe, 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: The Rubicon Protocol? Was it what you expected?

JackVibe: My overall thoughts on Halo: The Rubicon Protocol are positive. Having played Halo Infinite and hunted down the audio logs for the wiki, I was expecting a good deal of expansion on the events depicted in the logs. Kelly Gay did more than what I expected, adding more context to some of the logs and breathing life into characters we previously only knew through their voices.

Sith Venator: I liked it a lot! Kelly Gay met my expectations as per normal, as she has been doing since 2016.

TheArb1ter117: My opinion on Halo: The Rubicon Protocol is generally high; yet another quality Halo novel from Kelly Gay. I’m not quite sure what my expectations were going into it, but I know they were exceeded in many areas and just missed in only a few others.

Question 2

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

JackVibe: Despite all of the narrative connections to Halo Infinite and the rest of the franchise, the novel can be someone’s first venture into the Halo universe. Most of the main cast have all appeared in some way or another in previous media, but they really shined here. If anything, I would even suggest reading the novel before playing Infinite, since it is a prequel to Infinite.

Sith Venator: I’m going to be bold and say nothing else is really necessary. This could easily be your first Halo book and I think you would be fine.

TheArb1ter117: I was going to say that readers of Halo: The Rubicon Protocol should play Halo Infinite first, but it could really be done either way. You will enjoy the connections that either story makes to the other. In addition to potentially playing Halo Infinite first, Halo Wars 2 could be useful to play to get further acquainted with the Banished, and a playthrough of Halo 5: Guardians might be good to get a sense of the state of the galaxy up until the events at Zeta Halo. As for novels, Halo: Shadows of Reach features some brief cameos of some of the major characters in Halo: The Rubicon Protocol and it gives a deeper look into Escharum’s character. However, none of these are required reading/playing in my mind except for Halo Infinite, whether that be before or after your reading of the novel.

Question 3

Prior to Halo: The Rubicon Protocol, Kelly Gay had not written a Halo story outside of the Rion Forge & Ace of Spades series. How do you think Kelly did with a cast of characters that were entirely new to her?

JackVibe: I haven’t read the Ace of Spades series, but I think Kelly has done a stellar job with the cast here. Fortunately most of the characters were relatively-blank slates, so Kelly was given plenty of space to play around with. The characters gave us a much more “human” look into different roles of the UNSC outside of the Spartan branch, and, as a big fan of narrative with multiple perspectives, I thoroughly enjoyed how she handled them. The Spartans also got a fair share of exploration; I particularly loved the topic of Spartans, the expectations of being Spartans, and the pressure that came with those expectations.

Sith Venator: I think she did pretty well! Especially for a more military style of story that’s happening here as opposed to the Ace of Spades series.

TheArb1ter117: Given that many of the characters within the Rion Forge & Ace of Spades series were entirely new (and also fantastic!), I think Kelly did a similarly great job with the characters in this novel. My main hope is that the story doesn’t end here for many of these characters and they continue to be expanded in a potential sequel novel or a game.

Question 4

Without revealing any key details, what did you think of the novel’s expansion of the Battle for Zeta Halo and the events portrayed in Halo Infinite?

JackVibe: In the end, Halo Infinite, despite its ambitions, was limited with how it depicted what happened on the ring. The depiction of characters, vehicles, weapons, and even events were constrained to the scope of a video game. The novel was able to work outside of these constraints; it managed to expand on what the game has established, all the while making small nods to previous media and telling a story with the main cast.

Sith Venator: This novel does an excellent job of showing scenes you thought were already kind of sad and doubling down on them to make you feel super depressed. Then on the more lighthearted side I just like the extra details Kelly added to things. Such as UNSC forces having access to vehicles that the player doesn’t get to see in the game itself.

TheArb1ter117: I think Halo Infinite did a fantastic job with the emotional characterization of the main characters–The Weapon, John-117, Fernando Esparza, and Escharum. However, we never really got to know many friendly side characters, primarily because the UNSC presence on the ring is so scattered and most of the Spartans we encounter are already dead. Halo: The Rubicon Protocol develops a number of these Spartans and those we only briefly hear from in the audio logs. It makes the conflict feel so much more personal and dire, with the UNSC just barely scraping by battle after battle. In Halo Infinite–and pretty much every other Halo game–the Master Chief is a whirlwind of unstoppable force and it rarely feels like the battle can be lost when he’s there to help, but this novel shows just how hard the UNSC had it leading up to the Master Chief’s awakening and it resonated with me greatly.

Question 5

For fans who have read many of the previous Halo novels and are unsure if they would like Halo: The Rubicon Protocol, which novel does this feel most like and why?

JackVibe: If Halo Infinite is a spiritual successor to Halo: Combat Evolved, then Halo: The Rubicon Protocol is that to Halo: The Flood. Both novels ran on multiple perspectives, though this time, there is no view from the non-human side of the conflict. It’s a shame, but I understand why.

Sith Venator: Maybe not too surprisingly this feels pretty similar to Halo: The Flood, though I would argue The Rubicon Protocol is the stronger of the two stories. Both novels cover events that were already covered in games. The Rubicon Protocol gets the benefit of avoiding retreading combat sections the player has already done while greatly expanding on the many audio logs sprinkled across Infinite.

TheArb1ter117: Like Jack and Sith said, Halo: The Flood is the clear comparison as it covers events referenced within the game and expands on the same conflict. However, in terms of plot, I’d liken Halo: The Rubicon Protocol to Troy Denning’s Halo: Oblivion. Both novels follow UNSC personnel stranded on an alien world as they attempt to regroup and consolidate their forces while dealing a blow to an enemy that currently has the upper hand. Like how Oblivion gives the reader time to explore the personalities of Blue Team and other UNSC personnel, The Rubicon Protocol explores the histories and characters of several Spartans and members of the UNSC Infinity’s crew, seeing how they act in dire and seemingly unwinnable circumstances. The Rubicon Protocol is a book that puts as much weight on character development and relationships as it does the overall plot, which is an aspect of Kelly’s novels that I have always enjoyed.

Spoiler Questions

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Question 6

Were there any specific moments, characters, or elements of Halo: The Rubicon Protocol that you particularly enjoyed or want to highlight?

JackVibe: I loved the chapter in which Spartan Horvath finds Kate Stalling/JAEGER. Even though it was only one chapter, it was representative of what Kelly wanted to accomplish narratively in the novel–to depict small stories of sacrifices in the universe. Kate was left for dead and yet she recorded everything she knew of the network, in hopes that someone would find them and at least throw a wrench into the Banished’s plans.

It also didn’t shy away from the brutality of a war–something Halo hasn’t done much. Not that it was something I wanted to see, but it was decidedly different from Halo's usual pristine depiction of what should be a genocidal campaign against the human protagonists. We’re so used to seeing things from a Spartan’s perspective, we’d never gotten a look into what a conflict with cruel space apes would look like.

It’s also a wake-up call for Horvath and us, reminding us of what the Banished are capable of… or at least what Gorian is capable of, giving a little more characterisation to a character whose role is closest to what would be the main antagonist of the novel.

Oh, and I haven’t even gushed about Horvath! In a moment of “OOC is serious business”, Horvath’s usual snarky demeanour melted away, and we see a much more emotional and empathetic side of the Spartans. You can’t help but feel Horvath held himself responsible for Kate’s encounter with Gorian, and the mix of fury and guilt that came with it. Then the scene of him sitting outside the cave, watching the “gorgeous” scenery of a Halo ring whilst dreading the gunshot. The chapter ends with him resolving to stop Gorian, exactly Kate’s goal.

A single chapter accomplished all of this: A one-off character whose story speaks to the main theme; a different depiction of conflict in the Halo universe; a reminder of the antagonist; a Spartan showing his human side. JAEGER was only mentioned briefly in an audio log’s description, and I had admittedly forgotten that passing mention before reading the novel. Playing the game, I was wondering who or what JAEGER was. Now I know. The chapter is my favourite.

Sith Venator: I generally enjoy the novel in its entirety, but two scenes that hit me harder than I thought were the deaths of the ONI agent and Spartan Stone.

TheArb1ter117: While I love Spartans Kovan and Horvath, the standout character for me was TJ Murphy. When it was first revealed that he would be a character in Halo: The Rubicon Protocol, I didn't even remember that he was an existing character who had appeared a few times in Halo 4's Spartan Ops. I applaud Kelly for bringing back a minor character that would probably never be seen again otherwise and fleshing him out into a caring and relatable person, and also a great leader. For me, his death was the saddest of the novel by far because of the work Kelly put in to develop him, and I really appreciate that.

Question 7

What were some of your favorite references and direct connections to Halo Infinite's campaign in the novel?

JackVibe: The novel re-contextualised some of the audio logs and I adored that. Gorian was one of the two Brutes that Horvath overheard talking about a choke point. I enjoyed the consistency shown with all the audio log dialogues inserted into the novel.

Sith Venator: I quite enjoyed whenever the novel fleshed out locations we could visit in Halo Infinite proper. It’s going to be a lot more satisfying to free prisoners from the Redoubt of Sundering from now on.

TheArb1ter117: There are a number of connections to Halo Infinite that I loved, but the greatest of these is likely the Mortal Reverie. The Rubicon Protocol painted the makeshift base as the UNSC’s sole beacon of hope in that part of the ring. The crash site was viewed by the characters as a little slice of home in the midst of their insurmountable and dire situation, which is only really alluded to through the audio logs in the game. As an aside, I really loved seeing TJ Murphy’s elation at being served a slice of pizza in the Mortal Reverie's cafeteria after being on the run for days. Anyway, everything that happens at the Mortal Reverie in the novel makes it feel that much more important when you recapture the base in the game. Some of the other things I liked were the visit to the Conservatory and that you can find little things like Spartan Bonita Stone’s lifepod scattered throughout the open world.

Question 8

For the main characters that survived the novel’s events, how would you like their stories to be continued in future media?

JackVibe: The surviving members of the boat crew were mostly satellite characters for Stone and Murphy. With both of the characters being dead at the end of the novel, I think there’s a lot more to be done with the survivors. Of the three Spartans given the most attention in the novel, Kovan had the least to do, so I’d love to see her more in the future, maybe leading the boat crew on more sabotage operations. I’d also love to see where Horvath’s solo adventure brings him. Maybe he can meet up with Lasky and the remaining Infinity crew elsewhere on the ring. Whilst it would be cool to have them meet the Chief (or us, as players in a future DLC), I think Kelly’s portrayal has convinced me that they are better off being characters in a novel.

…Happy to be proven wrong though!

Sith Venator: Jack chiseled my answer for the most part so I’m just going to add that I’d like to see the boat crew interact more with 091 Adjutant Veridity.

TheArb1ter117: I’m of course interested in seeing what Spartan Nina Kovan and the rest of the boat crew get up to in the future, hopefully in some kind of campaign expansion for Halo Infinite or simply in a new campaign set on Installation 07. I would also be totally for a sequel novel to The Rubicon Protocol set during and after the events of Halo Infinite's campaign. But mostly, I’m intrigued by Spartan Tomas Horvath and his whereabouts. After coming across that final audio log from him pleading for the Master Chief to return while he traveled away from Banished-held territory in search of more survivors, I was already interested in his story. Now, he seemingly has been teleported to a completely new portion of the ring, one filled with snow-covered mountains. Like Jack said, I hope we get to see him find some of the more notable survivors of the attack on the UNSC Infinity, including Captain Lasky, Spartan Sarah Palmer, and maybe even Dr. Halsey.

Question 9

Given that Halo: The Rubicon Protocol is a prequel to the events of Halo Infinite, the reader knows that certain characters are going to die over the course of the novel. How did this affect the reading experience, especially given Spartan Stone’s status as a main character?

JackVibe: There was a looming sensation of dread when I reached the point matching Stone’s final audio log. Kudos to Kelly and her writing. Despite knowing Stone was going to be found dead at that very location, Kelly’s writing had me wonder if she was going to survive that encounter. I even forgot we already knew Jega 'Rdomnai was the one that killed her, so when she escaped him initially, I found myself wondering what character or event Kelly was going to conjure to kill off Stone. who had been depicted as a highly-capable Spartan throughout the novel. Then I kicked myself for my poor memory when 'Rdomnai returned and killed Stone. Thanks, Kelly, for giving me hope and then dashing my hope that Stone would somehow survive.

Sith Venator: Since I knew Spartan Stone dies I probably focused more of my attention on Kovan since she’s not nearly as present in the Infinite audio logs. That being said I was still rooting for Stone the whole time despite knowing what was going to happen. I enjoyed her relationship with Kovan so that helped as well. I got to cherish her victories before she succumbed to her preordained fate.

TheArb1ter117: I think I subconsciously didn’t get as attached to Spartan Stone because I knew she was going to die. Despite this, when I realized that she had reached the location where we found her body in the game, I was dreading seeing her fall. Throughout the fight, I was rooting for her to prevail even though I knew how it had to end. Thankfully, her last act helped to keep vital information out of Banished hands (or should I say paws?) and instead pass it onto the UNSC, hopefully eventually leading to their rescue.

Question 10

Was there anything referenced/shown in Halo Infinite's campaign that you feel would have benefited greatly from further expansion in Halo: The Rubicon Protocol? Are there any questions regarding the Battle for Zeta Halo that you still want answered?

JackVibe: Something Infinite has done that The Rubicon Protocol hasn’t: perspectives from the Banished. The game’s audio logs gave us a good look into how the Banished operated on the ring. I understand the story was focused on the fate of the human characters, and their limited point of view helped build tension and drama. Subsequently, not a single chapter was dedicated to the perspective of a Banished character, like The Flood had done with Zuka 'Zamamee. We have had many glimpses into the Banished, yes, but the Banished that debuted in Infinite could have used some more love. I would have loved to see them conduct research on the ring, as a contrast to the Covenant’s usual “meddling” actions on a ring.

Sith Venator: I would have liked it if Tovarus and Hyperius had been characters in this book as well. As of right now most of their characterization comes from the 2022 Halo Encyclopedia. Hyperius has killed over a dozen Spartans! Would have liked to see some of that. Better yet, I would have liked to see the brothers’ relationship fleshed out a bit. If the player kills Tovarus first in Pelican Down Hyperius will respond enraged. If the player kills Hyperius first Tovarus will call his dead brother a coward and that he deserved death. They clearly did not have a wholesome relationship like Pavium and Voridus do.

TheArb1ter117: Halo novels generally consist of multiple intertwined plotlines, and that is the case with Halo: The Rubicon Protocol. However, like Jack said above, I really wish there was a dedicated Banished plotline. While we do get sections like the Gorian and Spartan Horvath adventure and the Harbinger’s discussions with Lucas Browning, all of it is told from the perspective of the human characters. Going into The Rubicon Protocol, I was expecting a Jega 'Rdomnai plotline following his hunt of the Spartans and detailing the deaths of each of the dead Spartans we encounter in Halo Infinite (including those killed by Hyperius and Tovarus, who are still in dire need of development).

Additionally, I kind of wish the main story had advanced past the point of John-117’s return in late May 2560, with some hints and references to the Master Chief’s efforts to retake the ring. Maybe the boat crew hears some broken transmissions that imply the Master Chief’s raid on the Tower or the recapture of the Mortal Reverie, ending the story with them filled with the hope that things might turn out okay.
Spoilers end here.

Summary

Ultimately, we at Halopedia greatly enjoyed Halo: The Rubicon Protocol and how it expanded the story introduced in Halo Infinite. While there were areas that we think could have seen further attention, the novel overall is fantastic and has earned from us a rating of 8.5/10!

This concludes our second ever book review! We will be continuing this with Troy Denning’s Halo: Outcasts next year, so any feedback on the format and content of this review is appreciated! Also, if you have yet to check out our review of Halo: Divine Wind, you can do so here.

We’ll leave you with JackVibe’s beautiful mock-up of a poster for a theoretical Halo movie following the boat crew of Halo: The Rubicon Protocol (or TRP) inspired by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the discussion that led up to it.

(Editor's note: Jack has been promoted to the wiki's Graphics Lead.)