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Literature / Halo: Broken Circle

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Halo: Broken Circle is a book in the Halo franchise written by John Shirley in 2014. Unlike previous novels, there are no humans as the Covenant are the sole focus here, with attention primarily on the Sangheili (Elites) and San'Shyuum (Prophets).

The first half of the novel takes place during the beginning of the Covenant, just after the Writ of Union has ended the war between the Elites and the Prophets. The two species had warred over artifacts left by the ancient Forerunners, but have since called truce and formed an interspecies alliance that would become the Covenant. With the Prophets as the Covenant's leaders and the Elites as their warriors, both seek to follow the Forerunners to a spiritual ascension known as the "Great Journey".

However, an Elite splinter group led by Ussa 'Xellus continues to fight against the Prophets, under the belief that their Great Journey is false and the Writ of Union nothing more than shameful surrender. Ussa sees his chance when a follower of his tells him of a secret Forerunner world, where his followers might be able to escape and live free from the Covenant.

Meanwhile, the Prophet of Inner Conviction, Mken 'Scre'ah'ben, prepares to lead an expedition to the Prophets' old homeworld, in hopes of finding females who will emigrate to the Covenant and increase the gene pool of its Prophets. But he too has his doubts about the Great Journey, and his unorthodoxy (and moral backbone) has made him enemies among the other Prophets, rivals whom he fears might see this expedition as the best chance to kill him in secret.

The second half takes place after a Time Skip of over 3,000 years, during the beginning of the Great Schism between the Elites and Prophets, and follows Mken's and Ussa's descendants.

Contains Examples Of:

  • Absent Aliens: Inverted. Every character is an alien and the bulk of the plot takes places years before the Covenant makes contact with humanity. When the period of war with humans arrives, no humans are seen at all in the book’s events.
  • Action Girl: Lnur 'Mol, a female Sangheili who comes from a keep with a strong "protector-of-eggs" tradition. Her partner Tersa even notes at one point that maybe she should be the one protecting him.
  • Action Prologue: The prologue takes place during one of the pre-Covenant battles between the Sangheili and San'Shyuum, with the focus on Mken and Ussa matching wits.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Enduring Bias, the caretaker of Shield World 0673, continues the running theme of Forerunner AIs becoming a tad loopy from being alone for roughly 100,000 years. Unlike most examples, though, he's happy to have Ussa and his followers around (even striking up something resembling a working friendship with Ussa's wife Sooln), and has no problem with helping them out if need be.
  • Alien Sky: The aptly-named Planet of Blue and Red has two suns, a blue dwarf star and a red giant, that divide the planet into red- and blue-toned halves, with a "Purple Line" marking the border between the two.
  • Attack Drone: The prologue shows that the San'Shyuum managed to establish control over a number of Forerunner Sentinel drones, but most of them were destroyed by the time the Covenant was formed.
  • Automatic Crossbows: The Mec-Missilers carried by the Ussan Sangheili are these.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Because of Prophet of Clarity Zo Resken's close friendship with Sangheili Field Commander G'torik 'Klemmee, the latter unhesitatingly rescues the former from Exquisite Devotion's clutches.
  • Big Brother Is Watching You: Enduring Bias can watch everything happening on the shield world through its cameras. Learning about this does not make the Sangheili feel any more trusting of him.
  • Big Damn Heroes: A non-combat version. When the Hierarchs put Mken on trial for losing a Luminary, Minister of Relative Reconciliation Qurlom interrupts the proceedings and convinces the Hierarchs to find Mken innocent. Not only that, but he also gets them to both disband the Ministry of Anticipatory Security and punish R'Noh Custo for his role in losing the Luminary.
  • Cool Sword: Burnblades are ancient Sangheili weapons. Unlike the more modern energy swords, burnblades have a metal blade, but a button on the hilt engages a generator that quickly heats the blade to red-hot temperatures, allowing each cut to deal thermal damage and char wounds without cauterizing them.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • A Covenant spy among the Sangheili is quickly torn apart by an angry mob.
    • The Prophet of Exquisite Devotion has a nasty punishment for anyone he hates: locking them in a controlled gravity chamber. Those inside it feel the effects of rapid gravity increase, and Exquisite can even select where he wants the gravity to focus on, so he can crush limbs, divert blood, or force organs out of one's throat.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Sangheili society is a patriarchal one, with a long tradition of men as warriors and women as housewives. However, some keeps allow a little leeway in training their women to defend themselves and their eggs, in case of war. A few women like Lnur end up taking it far enough that traditionalists like 'Crolon get suspicious that women are trying to usurp the men's role.
  • Devoured by the Horde: When a Covenant spy hidden among the Sangheili rebels tries to kill their leader Ussa 'Xellus, the other rebels grab him and promptly rip him apart. Ussa is grateful for the lifesaving but wishes they hadn't killed the spy, as he could've been interrogated. A later defector to the Covenant, Crecka, suffers the same fate from Ussa's rebels, though the Covenant themselves were expecting that to happen after they sent him to fight his former comrades in battle.
  • Friend-or-Idol Decision: After a missile strike to the Vengeful Vitality creates a hull breach, Mken must choose whether to save recruited female Burenn or the Luminary about to fly out in space. He chooses Burenn, and the Luminary ends up falling out and burning up in the atmosphere.
  • For Want of a Nail: Played with. It's implied that had the Luminary from Janjur Qom not been destroyed, then the Covenant might have found the Halo Array roughly 2 millennia early, and likely set off galactic extinction with it.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Part 1's conflict has few truly evil guys. The Prophet Mken just wants to get back home to his wife, Ussa 'Xellus and his Elites want to live away from the Covenant, and his dissenters led by Salus 'Crolon are afraid 'Xellus will lead them into ruin (though 'Crolon himself is an unsympathetic and misogynistic Jerkass who's willing to sell out his comrades to the Covenant just to save his own skin). The only fully unsympathetic bad guys in Part 1 are the Prophets R'Noh Custo and Excellent Redolence, who are motivated primarily by a lust for power. The clearest display of this trope is in the penultimate scene of Part 1, where Mken and Ussa discuss from either side of the conflict, and both reasonably explain why they can't reconcile.
  • Half-Truth: Mken is not allowed to tell Lilumna and the other recruited females from Janjur Qom the full truth about their upcoming life on High Charity.
  • Hand Signals: The San'Shyuum have an elaborate secret sign language that is generally used to supplement spoken conversation.
  • Happily Married: Mken and his wife Cresanda are both very devoted to each other, as are Ussa and his wife Sooln.
  • Ironic Nickname: In what is becoming a tradition for the Prophets in Halo, Mken 'Scre'ah'ben is known as the "Prophet of Inner Conviction" because of the purity he displayed in his youth. By the time the Covenant is established, he's already begun to have private doubts that the Halo Array is a means of divinity, thinking the texts he's read sound more like weapons, showing he lacks inner conviction. Unlike most Prophets, Mken is self-aware enough to recognize this and chastise himself for it.
    Mken: "Prophet of Inner Conviction" indeed—what irony! Find your own inner conviction!
  • Language Drift: When Zo and his Sangheili companions rediscover the Ussans, they find that the latter's dialect of Sangheili has changed far less than their own in the 3,000+ years since the Ussans became isolated, to the point where they have to use translation devices to communicate properly.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Ussa very much views the Council of City States as this for agreeing to join the Covenant, and it's indicated that many Covenant Sangheili in the conglomeration's early years were privately quite ashamed of not resisting against the Prophets.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Ussa's primary contact on Creck dies after inexplicably falling into magma, which Ussa quickly realizes was arranged by someone loyal to the Covenant.
  • Mars Needs Women: Mken is tasked with returning to Janjur Qom, the Prophet homeworld, in order to recruit San'Shyuum females to prevent the Covenant San'Shyuum from becoming too inbred. While the mission is ongoing, the physical differences between the Reformist- and Stoic-descended San'Shyuum are noted a number of times, with the latter being much fitter.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Both Mken and his descendent Zo Resken are the first major Prophet characters in the franchise to be sympathetic. Mken loves his wife, expresses his dismay at the shadier plots of the Covenant leadership, even when he's forced to take part in them, and even ultimately allows Ussa and his followers to find safe haven away from the Covenant. For his part, Zo Resken makes the decision to follow his conscience and side with the Elites during the Great Schism, and does not budge from his choice even when facing execution. Additionally, even the High Prophets in the first half of the book, with the exception of Excellent Redolence, seem to be relatively decent types, especially compared with Truth and his cronies in the second half.
    • On a more minor note, both Mken and Cresanda prefer to walk together (rather than use the usual hover-chairs/belts).
  • Orbital Bombardment: In the prologue, we get to see the Forerunner "Dreadnought" in action as it fires a massive energy beam at Sangheili positions from orbit.
  • Pacifism Breaking Point: When the separatist Ussan colony is discovered by the Covenant empire, the Prophet of Inner Conviction Mken 'Scre'ah'ben attempts to negotiate with Ussa 'Xellus and the Ussans to surrender peacefully before the Covenant could wipe them all out, but the latter values their independence. Ussa demands the Covenant leave them in peace, and offers valuable relics as payment for their freedom, but the Covenant cannot bear to show anyone subverting their rule. Thus the two realize over the course of their debate that either side has no choice but to go to war. In the end, the Ussans opt to fake blowing up their colony while surviving in hiding. Mken notices hints of their escape, but as he sympathizes with their cause, he decides to keep it secret.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Custo's original plan for bringing some genetic diversity for the San'Shyuum was to outright kidnap females from Janjur Qom, though Mken's objections helped put a stop to that. Still, the females are still not recruited under the most truthful of pretenses.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Surprisingly, the Hierarchs of Unity and the Glorious Journey turn out to be this, as the testimony of the Sangheili and Qurlom's intervention convince them to not just find Mken innocent of wrongdoing, but disband the Ministry of Anticipatory Security.
    • Also, Qurlom is much more flexible than his zealotry and fundamentalism would suggest; he even forgives Mken for not successfully securing the Luminary, simply seeing it as a sign that the Covenant aren't meant to go on the Great Journey yet.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Salus 'Crolon defects back to the Covenant in hopes of revenge on Ussa, but its leaders have little reason to think he's actually loyal to them. Rather than bring him back into the fold, thus, they make him into a guide for the Covenant Sangheili that assault the Refuge. Not long after he lands, 'Crolon is found by the Ussans and hacked to pieces.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Besides Forerunner relics, the Planet of Blue and Red also has stone ruins belonging to another extinct bipedal species; besides apparently having a knowledge of the Forerunners, nothing more is ever revealed about them.
  • Servile Snarker: Mken's advisor/bodyguard in the prologue has a habit of subtly mocking his boss by referring to him with superfluous honorific courtesies.
  • Scenery Porn: The prologue gives an elaborate description of the Planet of Red and Blue and how the different colors of its two suns give the world a remarkable duality of hue.
  • Schizo Tech:
    • Due to their religious beliefs, most of the technology of the Stoic-descended San'Shyuum seems to be barely more advanced than that of 21st-century humanity's (though their firepower seems to be more on par with the UNSC's pre-contact tech), but their bioengineering is far beyond our own, presumably because their ignorance of Forerunner biotech means that they don't have to worry about any divine punishment for their hubris.
    • The descendents of Ussa's followers also live like this; their scientific knowledge has regressed due to their small population and 3,000+ year isolation, but some of the technology they initially brought/developed, as well as some of the systems on the remains of Shield World 0673, still work, which leads to things like Elites in spacesuits fighting with malfunctioning plasma rifles... and axes and crossbows.
  • Spy Bot: Eyes, small diamond-shaped San'Shyuum-designed drones advanced enough to project 3-D holographic maps, perform tactical analysis, command Sentinels, and produce reports autonomously.
  • State Sec: The Ministry of Anticipatory Security, which Mken suspects was created by the Prophet of Excellent Redolence just so he could have an excuse to eliminate his opponents by claiming them to be a threat to the Covenant.
  • Trust Password: The only reason Ussa and Sooln come to Creck in the first place is because a mysterious contact there mentions that he fought alongside Ussa's uncle at Tarjak under the stone trees, a story that only close associates of the Xellus clan would know.
  • Tunnel Network: The Forerunner ruins on the Planet of Red and Blue are on top of a huge network of subterranean tunnels, which Ussa's forces use in an attempt to assassinate Mken and ambush the San'Shyuum researchers.
  • Uriah Gambit: Mken's expedition to Janjur Qom is in part a ploy by Custo and Excellent Redolence to have their agents assassinate Mken during said mission and blame his death on the San'Shyuum Stoics. Mken survives and the other Hierarchs discover their plot, leading to Custo's downfall.
  • Worthy Opponent: Mken feels a great deal of respect towards Ussa, though the feeling is not quite mutual.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • Custo's agents try to pull this on Mken on Janjur Qom after the latter discovers the Luminary, but he's saved by Vil 'Kthamee and Floats Near Ceiling.
    • Custo himself falls victim to this, as after his plot to kill Mken is uncovered, Excellent Redolence doesn't lift a finger to help him; in fact, he threatens to kill Custo if he says anything that also incriminates Excellent Redolence.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: To (most of) the Xellus clan, Ussa 'Xellus is an honorable leader who upholds the traditions of the Sangheili, while those who surrendered to the Covenant are cowards and traitors. To the Covenant's Elites, the 'Xellus clan is full of stubborn holdouts who refuse to see the truth of the Great Journey.