“The Big Meow,” or, “a better ending than I even bothered to hope for”


Diane Duane
I don’t think I’ve done a review of one of Diane Duane’s books on here before, but that’s not for lack of reading them — it’s just that I’ve been reading them since significantly before I had a habit of writing book reviews, or even a blog at all. The Young Wizards series is something I’ve read and reread and reread again; I’ll pick up one of the books for a reread almost as often as I reread Tamora Pierce.
A quick bit of context, then: the Young Wizards series is set in a universe1 where wizardry is real, and has a very distinctive purpose: slowing down entropy. Wizardry is based on language; wizards learn a special language, the Speech, that was used by the gods to create the universe. With those abilities, they fight the good fight, acknowledging that, yes, one day entropy will win, the universe will die… but they’re not going to let that happen any earlier than it absolutely has to.
The Big Meow is the third in a spin-off trilogy of sorts, following the team of feline wizards that maintain the worldgates at Grand Central Station.2 As in the second book, though, they don’t spend much time on their home turf; most of the book is set in Los Angeles, and there’s some fun to be had as they try to get used to the West Coast style.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the book, though, is how well it handled a certain issue: representation. The protagonist is a cat, and Duane does an excellent job of guiding the reader through that mindspace, through the different perspective given by an interspecies difference. The part that stood out to me, though, was how this, as a side effect, made for a surprising bit of queer representation. Rhiow, the protagonist, was fixed; as a result, this book, written before the word ‘asexual’ had even begun to enter into the public sphere with ‘gay’ and ‘bisexual’ and everything else under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, has an asexual protagonist. The first two books did too, and it feels entirely natural; Rhiow just has a different perspective on certain things, and cracks a few jokes about it with her coworkers. It’s not treated as a big deal at all.
In this book, it becomes a bit more of a focus, as we get a bit of a love interest subplot. And it’s handled quite well: there’s a bit of angst about the whole “I’m fixed and that makes me broken” thing, but her friends are quick to give her a loving whack upside the head, and help her stop seeing that difference as a negative and instead as just a difference. It is, possibly, the best bit of asexual representation I’ve ever read, and it’s quite touching.
Plot-wise, I think I enjoyed this one more than either of the others in the trilogy; the first goes a bit weird in places, and the second has a very cool setting that gets a bit confusing. This, though, doesn’t get lost at all, and the storyline is fun and beautifully creepy. It’s a bit fitting that this book, the one set in and around Hollywood, feels absolutely the most cinematic of the three. I’d totally recommend giving it a read.3
(And, while you’re at it, go read the rest of the series — the Young Wizards books are amazing. Pick up the New Millenium Edition box set, it’s totally worth it.)


  1. Well, technically, a collection of universes, but I digress. 
  2. Public transit: also useful for wizards. 
  3. Normally this would be an Amazon link, but Diane Duane runs her own ebook store, which I’m quite in favor of as it means the majority of the sale goes to her instead of to Amazon. 

Halo: Last Light


I didn’t even realize I’d made a Halo pun in the start of one of my other posts about all these Halo books, but referring to all these book reviews as a “flood” of posts totally is a Halo pun. Whoops.
Anyhow, this one just absolutely took the cake as my favorite Halo book ever. Which is saying something, considering that, as of now, I think I’m only one book shy of having read all of them.1
So, why was this one my favorite? Because the main character was so interesting. Inspector Veta Lopis is introduced as the best criminal investigator2 on the colony of Gao. Her task of the moment: find out who the serial killer is that’s been murdering tourists in the massive Montero Cave System. Unfortunately for her, the UNSC is also on site, having rolled in with an entire battalion as an ONI research task-group works on tracking down… something. Most people think it’s the source of the ‘miracle cures’ that have been cropping up in the caverns lately, which suits ONI just fine – they don’t want anyone to realize that they’re looking for an active Forerunner ancilla.3 Which is cool, because I love me some Forerunner tech. We also got a cool look at a Lifeworker Huragok, though why one was present in the ancient Forerunner base I have no idea.4
But why I loved it is that, for the most part, the book remembered that it started out as a murder mystery. Sure, some ex-Covenant show up and people start shooting at one another, but all throughout Lopis refused to lose sight of her goal: identifying the murderer.
(As a murder mystery, I thought it worked pretty well – there were a lot of different suspects I came up with, including a few that neither the Inspector nor the UNSC thought up.5 There were one or two very obvious ‘taunting you with knowing who did it but not saying it yet’ moments, but for the overall thrill of the chase I’d say they earned one or two.)
And the part that had me making excited noises as I read the book was the inclusion of a few Spartan-IIIs. I’d kinda forgotten that they could be back, since the last time I saw them was at the end of Onyx, with them being locked up in the Shield World. Except that wasn’t the last time I saw them, because one of the books featured Dr. Halsey helping to crack open that shield world and begin exploring, and they had the help of the Spartan-IIIs there while doing that. Onyx was the one I’ve read several times, though, so that’s what stuck in my mind. Seeing the Spartan-IIIs again was a nice little bonus, like, oh yeah, some of the characters I like actually survived the Human-Covenant War.6
And oh dearie me, the way those children interact with Lopis? It was heartbreaking. Keep in mind, they are literally children – there are two surviving members of the first class of Spartan-IIIs, and they serve as parental figures for the rest; other than those two, the eldest of the Spartan-IIIs is still too young to drive legally. They’re teenagers, and instead of going to school and having awkward Prom experiences or whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing as a teen, they’re entering their tenth year of being super-soldiers, killing the enemies of the UNSC.
And then they meet Lopis, and she finds out just how young they are, and she’s different. Because everyone else sees them first and foremost as Spartans, as untouchable super-soldiers purpose-built for war. But she sees them as kids, and she stands up for them. By the end of the book, they’re all calling her “mom.” It’s somewhere between ‘touching’ and ‘heartbreaking’ and I adored it.
That’s really what I want out of all of my media – superhumans, be they Spartans or superheroes, just trying to live their lives. Everyone wants to be normal, to fit in – and while most people don’t ‘fit in’ just because it’s inherently impossible to do so, these sorts of folks don’t fit in because they are the Übermensch. They’re stronger, faster, better than everyone else – but they still have problems.

Basically, I loved Last Light, and I am begging Microsoft to make sure we get to see Lopis and the IIIs again.7 I want it more than anything else in the world.
Go buy this book and read it. It was wonderful, and I want to make it clear that there’s demand, because economic forces rule us all.


  1. Not including the comics – that’s a project for… sometime after I graduate, when I start having enough disposable income and space to buy physical books again. 
  2. I’ve said the word ‘investigator’ too many times in my head already, it doesn’t sound like a word anymore. This doesn’t bode well. 
  3. This book included the word ‘ancilla’ so many times. I’d call it egregious, but I think the whole existence of the word ‘ancilla’ is – it’s just an AI, folks. You didn’t need to make up a special word for it just because it’s a significantly better AI than what anyone else has. You’re also referring to it as an Archeon-class, so having multiple words to point out that it’s fancy is just excessive. 
  4. Another thing I noted is that, while the ancilla itself went into a deep sleep mode roughly 100,000 years ago, the Huragok itself apparently didn’t and spent the entire time awake and wandering around the base, doing the Huragok version of being bored out of its mind. Poor thing. 
  5. One of them was ‘the MJOLNIR armor on its own, being controlled by hackers or something’ which vaguely came up, but only in the way that it’s possible to freeze a Spartan in the armor, not actively control it. Dang. 
  6. To be fair, Cortana and Dr. Halsey are probably my favorites and they both survived, but the Spartan-IIIs are nice because they’re only mildly sociopathic, instead of the ‘taken it to the point of pride’ level that Dr. Halsey’s at. 
  7. Spoiler warning

    The book ends in a way that made me shed a (metaphorical) tear of joy – Lopis and her IIIs getting to stay together as a family. A messed-up, ONI-sanctioned family of ultra-violence-using investigators, but a family nonetheless. 

Halo: Hunters in the Dark


And we’re back with even more Halo. A side note: I realized sometime while I was reading this book that I’ve never played Halo 5, and that I didn’t even know what the plot of it was. There’s a good reason I didn’t really care about Halo 5, though, which I might turn into a separate blog post at some point.
Anyhow, Hunters in the Dark. It’s another interwar book, though a bit of a precursor1 to the Human-Forerunner war to come. There was also a nice hint of follow-up with what happened to the UNSC Rubicon, the ship that Guilty Spark stole at the end of one of the Forerunner Trilogy books. I kept hoping for more on that, but I apparently haven’t gotten to the correct book and/or game for that yet, so oh well, I guess I’ll just keep reading.
This one follows a mixed group of Sangheili and Spartans, with the addition of Olympia Vale before she becomes a Spartan and a pair of human doctors. And, my favorite, a Huragok. I love the Huragok, they’re so delightfully weird. Based on comments throughout this book and the last, they’ve gotten very rare throughout the galaxy in the aftermath of the Human-Covenant War, and I’m really hoping that ONI or someone has an ongoing project to help them repopulate a bit. They’re kinda incredibly useful resources, and as far as I’m aware they can reproduce without too much work.2
Anyhow, the plot of this one kicks off with Luther Mann and Henry Lamb, the two doctors mentioned earlier, exploring Zeta Halo. There, they find an active countdown, which shortly thereafter leads to the discovery that the Halo array has been activated. Again.3 They realize that the signal came from the Ark, and start working to get the portal at Voi4 up and running again. Which is where the Sangheili come in, bringing the Huragok with them.
From there, it gets proceedingly more mysterious, and we never actually get answers as to what all was going on on the Ark. Sure, a lot of it could be explained by who the Bad Guy ended up being, but Drifts, the Huragok, made a few references to a third party messing around with the systems of the Ark, and I’m quite curious as to who that was.5
This one was a good read, though, I think I liked it more than New Blood. There wasn’t nearly as much flashback, and though the progression of time got a little nonlinear at times – mostly because one character’s storyline was revealing things a lot faster than the others’, and the author was trying to ensure that both plots would be interesting – but never did the sync get off by more than, oh, 12 hours or so. Quite manageable, and like I said, an interesting read.


  1. Get it? Precursor? Like the- oh, nevermind. 
  2. If I’m remembering right, it’s basically a matter of giving two or more Huragok access to enough raw materials, both biological and otherwise, to build a new one. They then connect and upload sufficient data for the new Huragok to become sapient and a useful tool. 
  3. Somewhere an ONI AI drops its head into its hands and starts calculating how expensive it’d be to just blow up all of them. (Back of the envelope math says: surprisingly, not that bad – it only took the overloading reactor complex of an early-model Frigate to do it in Combat Evolved, which means the things can be snapped with only, like, a couple H-bombs. Wouldn’t even need antimatter warheads!) 
  4. Why it’s referred to as being at Voi when it’s, like, five hundred times bigger than Voi and stretches all the way to the much-bigger city of New Mombasa, I don’t know. 
  5. Based on the timeline, I figure it could be Cortana, a local copy of 343 Guilty Spark, the Didact, or the Librarian. Or a Gravemind. There’s quite a few options there. 

Halo: New Blood


The flood of Halo books continues!
This one was a lot of flashing back. Like, two chapters of “this is what’s going on now,” and the whole rest of it was flashback. Buck,1 as it turns out, has a propensity for storytelling.
That story meanders quite a bit, because while he has a propensity for storytelling he’s got even more of one for going off on tangents. As it turns out, he’s now become a SPARTAN-IV, one of the new group that were created in the lead-up to Halo 4.2 And that’s sort of what this whole book is – an interwar period, a look at what the UNSC was doing in the immediate aftermath of the Covenant War and before the Didact showed up and started ruining things again. Which was a pretty cool bit of territory to play with, one that I don’t think we’ve really seen before in the Halo series. One of the core ideas of the games was that you’ve got the Covenant, these scary xenos,3 to provide a Big Bad Enemy that we don’t have to feel guilty for killing. But without the Covenant, humanity’s own mess of fighting amongst themselves came back out to play. It never really ended during the Covenant War, it just got put on hold – even ideologically antithetical enemies can put their differences aside when they’re faced with mutual obliteration at the hands of a third party.4 And so, in that interwar period, the rebellion against the UNSC and the UEG springs back to life, and all the troops that’ve gotten so use to that no-gray-areas war with the xenos are suddenly thrown back into the moral gloop that is a colony-vs-empire war.
And that’s something that, like I said, hasn’t really been explored in the Halo canon very much. Sure, the origin of the SPARTAN-II program was as a force for fighting against those rebels, and we’ve been through one or two missions there, but never with even a moment spared for their ideology – they were portrayed just as ‘terrorists.’ Which is fitting, considering how brainwashed all of the SPARTAN-IIs were; it’s even acknowledged in New Blood that one of the key reasons they were abducted and put into the program at the age of 6 was so that they’d have that sort of undying loyalty to the UNSC. The SPARTAN-IVs are all adults, converted into superhumans after they’ve been serving in the UNSC. And they’ve already formed their own opinions – they poke at their orders a bit, don’t obey quite as blindly, and in a couple notable cases, they actually side with the rebels. They’re not the point-and-shoot weapons that the SPARTAN-IIs were, but there’s more of them and it’s less likely to feed the rebellion when people find out about them and how they’re made.5
The fact that this one was such a gray area like that, though? It made it a much more interesting read. Depressing in places,6 but definitely interesting. Give it a read, especially if you want to find out more about the SPARTAN-IVs.


  1. The sergeant from Halo 3: ODST and a SPARTAN-IV in Halo 5, if you’re wondering why I’m acting like that’s a name that should be familiar. 
  2. Fun fact: I just now realized that Halo 5 has been out for a few months. I’m way more invested in the multimedia project that is Halo than I am in the video game series. 
  3. The term “alien” gets too much use in politics nowadays, so I’m going with “xenos” as shorthand for extra-terrestrial non-humans. 
  4. Imagine how the Cold War would’ve gone if Martians had shown up during the Cuban Missile Crisis and started laying waste to the entire planet. 
  5. Because, seriously, imagine the PR disaster that ensued when the Office of Naval Intelligence finally had to reveal that the SPARTAN-IIs were created by kidnapping children and brainwashing them and then testing a bunch of geneva-convention-violating surgeries on them. 
  6. There’s nothing more aggravating than having a playable character die at a point in the game when you can’t control them – you can’t help but feel like if you were in charge you could’ve done something different, you could’ve saved them. Cutscene deaths are stupid, and so are book-sequel-deaths. Which could be more of a spoiler if I gave you any idea of who died, but I won’t.