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.