Myke Cole is another 2012 debut author I discovered in that same year. His first novel Shadow Ops: Control Point presented an interesting world where magic and technology exist side by side and where governments around the world use magically-empowered special forces. It was a fun novel, albeit a protagonist who made it really tough to like him, and is one that I can certainly recommend, if only because of the world-building and the fact that it does get better towards the end.
This review is a repost of the original review on The Founding Fields, which can be found here.
“Who knew military science fantasy could be so much fun?” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
When my friend Stefan over at the Civilian Reader blog reviewed this novel, his opening line was: “Guns’n’Sorcery is born“. Author P.V.Brett calls it a fusion of X-Men and Black Hawk Down. Several of my reviewer friends have all said great things about the novel and there is a pretty much universal consensus about it: this novel is not one to be missed for any reason. With endorsements like that, its tough to pass on this novel, to at least see what all the fuss is about. And I finally got a chance to read it last month, driven by the fact that I’m running a guest post series on my blog where I invite debut authors from 2010-12 to come and talk about the significance of the names in their novels (Myke’s entry). I did gos in with some reservations though, since while the premise appealed to me, I kept thinking that this novel just might be too good to be true. Have to say that I was pleasantly surprised as for me, it does match up to all hype I’d heard about it, and I agree with the sentiments of my friends.
Control Point, the first novel in the Shadow Ops series, is about an Army officer who discovers he has magic powers and goes on the run from those who want to do nothing but hunt him down and take him out. But not everything is as it seems and Oscar Britton is quickly drawn into a world where people like him are trained to fight for their country and do it smiling. From his escapades throughout America as he seeks to avoid the agents of the Supernatural Operations Corps, to him being trained by his hunters as he has manifested a rare magical power, to his realization that he now finally has a good cause to fight for that he can utterly believe in, the novel is a straight-up action-movie romp.
The one thing that really stands out about this novel is how well Myke has written the military aspects of the story, they all feel very realistic. The reason why he did such a good job with that is because he has served in the military up until recently and is currently serving with the New York Coast Guard if I recall correctly. The realism that is imparted to this aspect of the novel is nothing short of tremendous. Yes, there are a lot of things to take in, especially all the technical stuff, but that dynamism is all there for the reading. It makes for a very satisfying read.
Then there is Oscar himself. Myke has managed to capture his confusion, his motivations, his character growth, all of it, really well. From the first few pages I was convinced that reading about Oscar was going to be a treat and I was certainly not disappointed. He is a strong character who goes through several reversals in his new life as an agent of the SOC, physically and mentally both, and he comes out of all of it a changed man. He is someone that the reader can believe in because we see his motivations up close and because the author has done great in getting into his psyche and showing us what makes him tick. His conundrums about where his true loyalties lie, to himself or to runners like he was up until recently or to other agents like he is being trained to be, were often quite emotional. The universe has decided to make Oscar Britton’s life living hell, and Myke doesn’t stint on that approach at all.
Then there is the whole concept of the Supernatural Operations Corps itself: a division of the American military might. The concept of magic users (not mutants, not exactly) as part of this idea is, frankly, a masterstroke. This is the second military fantasy I’ve read so far this year (that I can recall) and I have to say that this is clearly the much superior one in terms of both ideas and execution, much much superior. The middle third of the novel, which is almost all about Oscar’s training alongside others like him on a secret SOC base, drags down the novel’s pacing but it is still exciting to read because this is where Myke’s world-building kicks in full force. This also extends to when the author shows just how much diversity there is in this brave new world: we have teleporters, people who can manipulate the elements, necromancers, healers, and so on. Its almost an exhaustive list. That diversity is what defines the middle third of the novel.
The solid characterisation isn’t limited to just Oscar however. His squad-mates, their commanding officer, and other minor and sundry characters have helped with her a great deal. Marty the goblin certainly stands out as the most likable. The goblins are almost like Ewoks, almost being the key operative world here. Myke’s cast is really rich, from all walks of Oscar’s new life, which works in its favour for a great deal.
However, Control Point wasn’t all that good for me. The training scenes at SOC HQ were fun and interesting but they dragged on a little too much. Combine that with the fact that there is a lot of show don’t tell here. I’d say that if these various scenes could have been trimmed a bit more, then the middle third of the novel would have been truly great. As it stands, that distinction goes to the latter third, which is full of awesomeness. I think that this goes for all such novels however. The hero must always go through intense training to be able to challenge at the end and face-off against his enemy. Oscar Britton doesn’t disappoint at all here, and he proves his allegiance several times over.
Then there is the Source itself, where the SOC HQ is located and which is Oscar’s new home. Again, the concept here was great, it was unique and fun, but the execution of it fell flat a bit. And that’s because Myke didn’t spend too much time showing off the natives, the goblins. We see them as contractors (of sorts) at SOC HQ and as aggressors against it as well (different tribes), as well as defenders, when an SOC teams heads into one of their strongholds as part of a preemptive strike. Given the uniqueness of the whole thing, I expected to and wanted to see a lot more of it than what we got. I think that could have been a great credit to the novel and would certainly have helped with the immersion.
But yeah. Overall, Shadow Ops: Control Point is a great novel that marks a fantastic debut. It has some great cinematic action, some really touching characterisation, and an almost in-depth discussion of the magic system that is a part and parcel of life at the SOC HQ. I would certainly recommend this novel!