Halo: The Rubicon Protocol is set in the roughly six-month gap after the events of the opening cutscene of the game Halo Infinite. The UNSC Infinity has been lost, the Banished have ambushed them and over 17,000 human crew onboard are attempting a panicked evacuation. Featuring several characters of whom we find traces during the game’s campaign, Mrs. Gay was given the unenviable task of filling in the gaps of an already defined story. Unlike the recent Shadows of Reach, she brilliantly pulls it off by writing a tale full of despair, hope, brutality, and new information on where the entire series is heading. I loved this book, finishing my initial readthrough in a day, so let’s break it all down in this as-spoiler-free-as-possible review.
There is no way to talk about this book without starting with Halo Infinite’s opening cutscene and lightly delving into the various audio logs you find throughout the game that feature characters from this novel. If you haven’t played the game yet I’d recommend going through it before reading this as the novel is very much a companion piece. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy it without playing, but you will lose a lot of the context that is given throughout its 335 or so pages.
Things start up with the ambush and destruction of the UNSC Infinity. The perspective shifts through multiple protagonists throughout the entirety of the novel. GEN3 Spartan Soldier Bonita Stone, Medic Lucas Browning, Spartan Nina Kovan, Spartan Tomas Horvath, and many more are featured. The Banished have ambushed the UNSC the instant they approached Zeta Halo. Throughout the campaign of Halo Infinite, you can find audio logs that cover this battle along with the six months that Master Chief was left adrift in space after he failed to stop Atriox and his men. There are multiple characters whose fate we already know thanks to the campaign, so I greatly appreciated the introduction of new ones for whom we did not. It helped keep up the suspense during a shockingly brutal story.
While the opening focuses on the evacuation onto Zeta Halo things quickly shift to a relatively small part of the yet-to-be-destroyed ring. Areas such as The Tower and Conservatory feature heavily alongside The Reverie, a.k.a. Outpost Tremonius. The author does a good job of conveying the true size of everything so that it doesn’t feel disconnected from the smaller for video game balance/performance purposes version we get in Halo Infinite.
The Banished and their Brute leaders are vicious, smart, and singular in their purpose. Never once do they show mercy, and at any time every character in the novel felt at risk of losing their life. Unlike the aforementioned Shadows of Reach though it was never obvious who was or wasn’t going to make it out of the new characters. Each injury or death felt both sudden and earned. I even grew attached to the ones whose fate I already knew from the game. The writing gives a proper depth over time with none of the main characters falling into a one-note archetype. In a book so full of loss, pain, and suffering I never felt like it was being used for shock value.
Another area where Mrs. Gay’s writing shines is the action. She uses a mix of the internal and external to convey what is happening in a way that is both informative and exhilarating. I never once felt like I was reading a lecture from a military trainer. The focus was not on the maneuvers above all else like in some of the previous Halo books, but instead on making sure you knew what was happening, how the characters felt in that moment and guessing as to what could come next. They found the difficult balance of bringing a super-soldier and alien-filled science fiction novel into something grounded enough to work in my mind’s eye.
As stated before, the book focuses on specific points in the roughly six months between the escape onto the ring of Zeta Halo and the start of Halo Infinite. Chapters tend to shift perspective and occasionally time from character to character and it works. It never felt like a story thread was left hanging for too long, and it all tied together well as the end approached. If you’ve played the game it takes place almost entirely within the map we know, and after multiple delays, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the novel had to be changed to fit in here. Halo Infinite itself was originally delayed by 13 months and The Rubicon Protocol followed suit.
Mrs. Gay still manages to fill in most if not all of the gaps from the game’s audio logs while adding in new mysteries and potential paths that the future books and Infinite campaign content may take. Through her deft hand, I never felt confused about the layout of this part of Zeta Halo, broken as it is, thanks to her use of concise and clearly defined descriptors. This goes for the characters as well, as the book takes place over a decently long period they are forced to adapt on the fly and grow into a group whose well-being always felt balanced on the point of a needle. I hope we get to meet them again, either in future novels or potential campaign content in the games.
Halo: The Rubicon Protocol is an excellent companion piece to Halo Infinite’s campaign. It is a brutal, bloody, and at times terrifying look into just a handful of the experiences that took place during this period. I hope more is in the works from the transmedia team at 343 Industries set in this fascinating and enormous alien landscape of Zeta Halo. Kelly Gay has now written three damned good Halo books and helped create a solid path for the future of the franchise.
Thank you to Gallery Books for the early physical copy used for this review.