Category Archives: militray fantasy

Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole Defies Expectations

Shadow Ops:  Control Point
Myke Cole
Ace, 389 p. mmp $7.99 US, $8.99 Can
ebook $7.99  Kindle Nook

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a publicist at Ace Books asking me to review Myke Cole’s debut novel, Shadow Ops:  Control Point.  I’d seen the book on the shelf in the bookstore and thought it looked interesting, so I agreed.

I’m glad I did.  It’s a military fantasy, but it’s not your typical military fantasy.  It’s got a good blend of superheroes thrown into the mix.

The story takes place in a world slightly different from ours.  At sometime in the recent past (Cole is vague on the chronology), during an event called the Great Reawakening, people began to develop magical powers.  Or at least some people did.

This, of course, upsets the government, and the government does what governments tend to do:  they try to legislate and control the magic.  Only certain types of magic are allowed, and if you practice in one of those schools, you’re allowed to live.  You just have to work for the government in a military type outfit called the Supernatural Operations Corps.  It’s either that or be executed.  If you manifest in a prohibited school of magic, well, you’re just out of luck.

Of course there are rumors of a secret program involving the prohibited schools and of covert operations involving practitioners of those schools.  The government denies this, but of course the rumors turn out to be true.

Oscar Britton is an army officer who manifests in one of the prohibited schools, portamancy, or the ability to open a portal to anywhere he’s ever seen.  Initially he goes on the run, but when he’s captured, he’s given the chance to join one of the cover covens.  To use his powers for good.  Or be killed.

When put that way, how can he refuse?

Only it’s not that simple.  The government defines what is good.  And it doesn’t exactly meet Oscar’s definition.  This is one of the books greatest strengths and where it departs from your typical military fantasy.  A great deal of the central portion of the novel involves the training Britton undergoes.  While some of this follows the predictable pattern of recruit grows and learns and becomes a better person with a more balanced outlook through his training, the growth and learning aren’t necessarily in favor of the establishment.  Britton is a conflicted character.  He wants to do good, but so much of what he sees around him and what he’s forced to do clearly isn’t good.  He has some real struggles over what is the right decision in some situations.

As a result, he’s very much a flawed hero, one who makes mistakes.  Costly mistakes, that result in people dying.  He’s also one I could sympathize with, even when I wouldn’t have made the same choice. 

There are plenty of fight scenes, especially as Britton completes his training and he and his team begin to be sent on missions.  Good, fun superhero style action.

But Cole doesn’t just leave us with another superhero novel.  He surprised me several times with the direction he took things, including the ending.  Especially the ending.  This is the first book in a new series, and I’m not sure where he’s going to go from here.  I can make some guesses, but I’d probably be wrong.  He’s recruited me for the next book.

Cole is former military, and it shows in the detail.  There were times when I felt I was right there.  This was not always a pleasant sensation.  The writing is smooth and powerful and propels you along.  Join the ride.

Of Blood and Crown and Conquest

The Crown of the Blood
Gav Thorpe
Angry Robot Books
464 p., $7.99 paper, $5.99 ebook

You know any book that is dedicated to Phillip, Alexander, and Julius is going to be battle-centric.  Or perhaps I should say campaign-centric, because battles are only a small part of a campaign.  The Crown of the Blood doesn’t disappoint, although towards the end I felt the campaign was a little rushed.

Is this book worth reading?  If you like military oriented fantasy without a lot of sorcery in the middle of the battle, then you should enjoy this one.  There is some sorcery, but the battles are fought between legions and bandits, legions and those-soon-to-be-conquered, and legions and legions.  Unlike Glen Cook’s Black Company novels (which I love), sorcery has little to do with the combat.  It’s done the old fashioned way:  looking your opponent in the eye when you try to kill him, just like he’s doing to you.

The plot concerns one Ulsaard, a general in the Askhan army who has managed to work his way up the ranks and is as close to nobility as he can ever be in this society.  He’s more comfortable with his legions than he is with the intrigues of court, and this causes him to be manipulated into taking sides in a disagreement over the succession.

The Empire was founded by Askhos, and he set some pretty strict rules about how things were to be done after he was gone.  By this time Askhos is considered something of a deity.  For one thing, only those of the Blood, Askhos’ descendants, can rule.  All bastards are killed by the Brotherhood, an organization responsible for things like rule of law and collecting taxes, but which also seems to serve a religious function by stamping out any beliefs in conflict with Askhos’ teachings.  The Empire must expand by conquest until it controls the entire continent; Ulsaard thinks this one has been neglected of late.  And the succession must pass to the oldest living son, no exceptions.

What starts things off is that the heir, Kalmud, has fallen ill with some sort of lung disease that is keeping him bedridden but so far hasn’t been fatal.  His younger brother, Aalun, and also Ulsaard’s patron, finds this all very inconvenient.  Ulsaard is chomping at the bit to invade the neighboring kingdom of Salphoria.  Aalun uses this to put Ulsaard in the position of appearing to be in rebellion when he presses to be named successor.  Of course, what starts out as appearance soon turns to fact, especially after Aalun dies unexpectedly.  Ulsaard decides to continue the campaign.

Civil war follows.  One interesting thing is that Thorpe doesn’t hesitate to introduce semi-major characters and then kill them off.  This adds to the suspense as some key players don’t last as long as you expect, making you wonder who is next. 

Another thing I found interesting was that apparently when a man marries a woman, he also marries her sisters.  Depending on the sisters, this could be a sweet deal.  Or not.  In Ulsaard’s case it’s something of a mixed bag.  He loves the older sister, uses the younger sister mainly as a sex object, and barely tolerates the middle sister, who is a scheming social climber and quite adulterous.

There are different cultures shown in the book, with viewpoint characters from some of those cultures, but the main one is the (not surprisingly) Askhan culture, especially the culture of the legions.  Much of the world remains unexplored, in terms of the reader’s knowledge, although to an extent that’s true of the characters as well.  I suspect from some loose ends that we’ll be getting a closer look at some of them in later books.

This was a good book that moved well, had depth of character, and still had some surprises as it went along.  I only had two complaints with the structure of the story.  First, as I mentioned earlier, the end of the campaign seemed somewhat rushed, with several key battles skipped over.  I suspect for reasons of length.  The other was the one situation in which sorcery was used.  It was during winter, when Ulsaard’s legions are encamped, that they began to experience a series of increasingly damaging attacks, things like people getting literally deathly ill with no notice, while hearing chanting voices.  That seemed to be dropped after the most vicious attack fails.  Thorpe skips ahead to spring in the next chapter.

Those weren’t enough to spoil the book for me, though.  I’ve downloaded the sequel, The Crown of the Conqueror, and should be posting a review of it in a few weeks.  One word of warning to some of you.  The violence, sex, and language in this novel are quite graphic at times, more so than in many novels published these days, at least in the States.  Or perhaps I should say at least among the authors I’ve read over the last few years.  If you are squeamish or offended by that sort of thing, you might want to give this one a pass.  Otherwise, enjoy it.  It’s an exciting story that drags you in.