I have read a few books from the halo universe. There are many halo authors so it is some what tough to keep track of what is going on and the different time periods. However the best book by far is "Halo: the fall of reach" by Eric Nylund. It's a story of how master chief and his fellow spartans become the actual spartans from the game. Starting when they are young and all the advanced training they went through. Happy reading!
I've read them all. Every single novel besides the new ones by Karen Travis. I pretty much stopped reading Karen Travis' first novel halfway through and never had the mental willpower to pick it back up. Besides the, "Travis Travesty," as I call it, they are overall great. However as stated before there are many authors in this 13 book saga. I'll help you break it down since it's a bit tricky to read if you don't play the games. The reason for this is that, with Halo 2 onwards, not much of the story from the games is actually broken down and explained in detail in the books. It's simply assumed you already know the information. It can become quite confusing around the fifth book. Keep in mind, though, that these novels are mostly popcorn novels. Dont expect any Hard-SF mind blowings. They are entertaining but not of much literary value. With that said, I have a personal passion for Halo and Starcraft's lore, as I've been playing the games of these series since I was very young. Keeping this in mind, let's move on.
The entire story revolves around a war for survival between futuristic Humanity and a Coalition of different warrior-like yet technologically advanced aliens united under one single theocratic government. We see the progression of the war firsthand through the eyes of a Spartan John 117, later on commonly known as, "The Master Chief," the most famous of all the Spartan super soldiers.
The first three books form the "Master Chief" arc. They are from the Master Chief's POV and detail his experiences before and during the Human-Covenant War and the Human Insurrection that took place before that. These books include
Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund (Start here) - Prequel to the Halo: Combat Evolved videogame. Details the origins and development of the Spartan Program, the Spartan's involvement in the Human Insurrection, and finally their actions during the initial outbreak of the Human-Convenant War.
Halo: The Flood by William C. Dietz - Novelization of the first Halo videogame. Direct sequel to Halo: The Fall of Reach. The story revolves around the accidental discovery of a massive yet ancient weapon/planet, the Halo Array, of Forerunner (An ancient yet immensely powerful alien race that was a precursor to both Humanity and The Covenant.) origin. The story details the successive struggle to secure the weapon by Covenant and Human forces. However, there are many unknown secrets to be found on the that may change the course of the war forever.
and Halo: First Strike by Eric Nylund - Direct sequel to Halo: The Flood. Details the events following the Battle for the Halo Array, the story primarily focuses on how Master Chief survived following the events of The Flood and also shows humanity's first offensive against The Covenant. (Of course led by none other then The Master Chief.) My favorite of the first arc, and second favorite novel overall. This novel acts as a bridge between the first and second Halo video games.
After the first three novels, the next four novels form the second arc. Things can get a bit confusing as the events they detail aren't linera and the story goes all over the place. There really isn't any official or popular name for the second arc, but again it encompasses four novels total. (One of which is an anthology of short stories within the Halo universe.) None of the novels in this arc follow the Master Chief's perspective. (Though there are plenty of mentions and a couple cameos.) and, in addition, none of the novels detail of any events following the first Halo video game. (So Halo 2 onwards.) This can leave some serious gaps and plot holes in the Halo timeline. There are the events of Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo Wars, (A side game all things considered.) and Halo 4. This arc includes the following;
Halo: The Ghost of Onyx by Eric Nylund. This is the last full work by Nylund in the Halo world. This story details the creation and demise of the SPARTAN III Program and the warriors it creates along with it's many victories and successes. Not much to say about it other then it's the last book that can be read and mostly comprehended without playing any of the video games. I believe this is something of a sequel to First Strike. (With the events of this novel happening chronologically after First Strike.) My favorite book by Eric Nylund and my overall favorite book of the entire Halo book series.
Halo: Contact Harvest by Joseph Staten. Staten was known for being the lead writer at Bungie for all of Halo's cinematics and lines of dialogue. This Halo novel was his one and only venture into the writing world, though it's quite good and is at least on par with The Fall of Reach. (Edit: After thinking it over for a minute, I retract my previous statement. None of the books really come too close of Nylund's works. I'm just a huge fan of Sgt. Johnson is all ) This novel is from the perspective a Marine Staff Sergeant named Avery Johnson. He is famous in the video games and is something of a super soldier in his own right. This novel details the first encounter with the covenant on the backwater colony of Harvest, and Humanity's response.
Halo: The Cole Protocol by Tobias S. Buckel. A side-story, all things considered. Many fans consider this the weakest of the second arc and an overall disappointment. However, this story primarily follows the mythical Spartan II Grey Team and their operations behind Covenant lines. I personally thought it was great and, again, personally I thought it is is just as great as all the other Halo novels. I honestly think fans where simply upset because every Halo fan simply wants Nylund back...And fans hadn't had a new piece of true Halo fiction since The Ghost of Onyx. (Harvest being a prequel.)
Finally, there's Halo: Evolutions. There's around 10(?)ish stories total that make up this anthology. The's a short story by Eric Nylund, The Impossible Life and Possible Death of Preston J. Cole, that I thought was the best Halo story of any piece of Halo cannon. (This includes the video games, books, ect.) This story goes into detail about humanity's greatest general and hero, Preston Cole. To my knowledge, this story is the last and longest story within the anthology. Though there are many great stories to be found in there.
The books and stories by Eric Nylund are indisputably the best and most popular among most Halo fans. (Three full-length novels and one long[er] short story that's a part of an anthology.) He is the one who put Halo fiction on the map. He is truly the master of the Halo Universe.
Next there's the Halo Forerunner Trilogy by Greg Bear. Details the Ancient Human Empire and it's wars against The Flood (A Parasitic organism that consumes all life.) and The Forerunners. (And also the Forerunner's extinction.) Moves Halo fiction away from popcorn action and towards legitimate Science Fiction or perhaps even Space Opera. Many fans are turned off by this new direction, but I personally loved everything Greg Bear has to offer. I read both of the last two releases in one sitting. Greg Bear is truly a master of science fiction. Everything is from the perspective of a young forerunner. I suppose I enjoyed it because I played the games and was able to make connections in my head. I don't know how enjoyable these novels would be as a standalone, though I suppose it could be hit or miss. (With Hit being in love.)
The novels in this trilogy are
and Halo: Silentium (TBR)
Finally, there's this new trilogy from *Shivers* Karen Travis! I despise this author. She isn't a bad writer, but she takes many (very important) things that Eric Nylund did and tears them to pieces. She has even admitted to not having a full, comprehensive understanding of previous Halo cannon. It shows in her novels. I actually even stopped reading her first novel halfway through. I recommend holding off a few years, hope Nylund is brought to rectify the mistakes Travis has made, and then going on to read them successively. (Perhaps with the rectification, should it happen, that would make this disappointment somewhat bearable?)
Tried the comic but found it very bad.
-I do not much like the games either, but I do like the story. Have not read the books, though, because to me the story, and history of the halo universe is better to enjoy in a form of cut scenes in the games.