Wow, what a surprise this book has been. I came in expecting it to be the darker middle entry in a trilogy that would ultimately have a tragic-but-hopeful ending. This book is not that. It is dark to be sure, but in many ways, this hardly feels in any way like a sequel to Cryptum. The only thing that even reminds me that this is related to that book is that some characters reappear, and that it takes place on a Halo, but that's about it. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but there's no doubt this book suffers a bit more than the first, despite its strengths.
This book takes place starting at an event roughly two-thirds of the way through Cryptum, when everyone has been captured by the Master Builder. Somehow, Chakas and Riser have been misplaced in a chaotic situation and end up on a rogue Halo installation, now under the control of the mysterious Primordial and the rampant AI Mendicant Bias. The story is told through Chakas' viewpoint, and chronicles his journey alongside companions new and old across the surface of this great ringworld, in excruciating detail. It's a VERY interesting story and quite compelling at times. There are tons of genuinely fascinating concepts, ideas, events, and characters dotting the landscape of this story. The actual events and revelations are truly great and some are even moving. It's not perfect though. Characters' moods and emotions will sometimes change on a dime for seemingly no reason, and it feels at times like there's little genuine character development, which is a shame after Cryptum did such a good job at that.
Much like Cryptum, Bear really captures the essence of the main character, and his viewpoint of the world becomes our own in the story. Because of that though, I find that the story in Primordium has almost no structure. The perspective is firmly focused on Chakas, what happens to him, and what he thinks about everything happening, but the narrative of the book never has any structure that really tells you what is happening in the overall "Forerunner Trilogy" big picture. You have to figure it out yourself in many parts. The characters have no destination in mind, are confused for most of the book as to what to do or where to go, and trust me, you'll share those feelings of confusion and uncertainty. I'm not sure if that was a purposeful narrative decision by Greg Bear, and I'm also not certain of whether or not it's a good thing. When you add in the ancestral imprints by the Librarian, who are practically characters unto themselves, and you've got another layer of complication. Another side-effect of seeing the world through Chakas' eyes is that, because pretty much everything outside of Earth is foreign and mysterious to Chakas, descriptions of almost everything are really confusing and nonsensical. Bornstellar at least understood what Forerunner tech was and how it worked and so did we as readers, even if we didn't understand all of its inner-workings, we at could at least understand what function it had and what it did. Chakas has no clue as to even that, so encounters with, for example, Forerunner cities or transport trains on Halo, are confusing to even figure out how to imagine what it looks like in our minds.
I find that this book suffers from the issues that Cryptum had, but much, much more so. Many of the important revelations in the story are buried and almost lost in tons and tons of exposition that focuses on minute and completely unimportant details. It's no exaggeration to say that for every page of genuinely compelling development in the overall narrative, there's anywhere from 7-10 pages of, for narrative purposes, useless information that merely extends the story's mass. Tons of effort went into describing minute details of every landscape they came across, the smallest details of landmarks such as a tree or a structure, and things like that. Then, huge moments, such as encounters with the Primordial or Mendicant Bias, flash by in just a few pages. Thankfully, all of the exposition is still focused on fascinating things, such as the Halo's landscape and innerworkings, as well as the countless people all inhabiting the Halo. Even if it is "fluff," it's still pretty interesting to take in. Personally, I don't mind more pensive, meandering novels (I loved Xenocide, which was much the same way) and so I liked most of Primordium myself despite all the "fluff." I can't deny that this book definitely has a ton of build-ups without enough pay-off to justify it though, and sometimes the overall narrative gets buried by all the fluff. Really, all of the pivotal information could be condensed into a short-story ranging anywhere from 100-180 pages and still be good. Who knows?
This book is genuinely compelling, its overall story is quite interesting if not confusing to patch together at times, and has a lot of interesting revelations at a pivotal, but small event in the Forerunner-Flood war.Personally, I found it hard to put the book down a lot of the time, but after finishing it, I recognize its flaws and some can be glaring. There's a lot of mind-blowing revelations in this book, and some of the pay-offs, while not given nearly as much page-space as the build ups, are truly spectacular. I just find that this book is not as good as Cryptum. I understand that Bear was given strict instructions by 343 Industries about what details to include to give us tantalizing hints at what's to come in Halo 4, but also plenty of details to exclude, so as to keep Halo 4 surprising and compelling when we finally play it. I understand that, but sometimes in the name of keeping on this strict narrative schedule, this book suffered a bit. Silentium seems poised to answer all questions that the first two books left unanswered (released a couple months after Halo 4 of course. Gotta keep that schedule. :P). It was hard for me to rate this book, but despite its problems, I enjoyed it. If you are a massive Halo fan like I am, then this is a good book to get, but it will also take some effort to get into and understand, not to mention patience to keep up with it. I hope that helps. Thank you and good day. :)