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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Shadow Ops: Control Point - Myke Cole

Ever read a novel and say... I can't say anything bad about it?  That's pretty much the case with Myke Cole's debut novel Shadow Ops: Control Point.  It's not a great novel; it lacks the artistic flair of something by K.J. Parker or the deep emotional resonance of something like The Tiger's Wife (Obreht).  It is, however, a very good one that tells a compelling story connected to well conceived world building and substantial undercurrents.  After finishing it I'm flabbergasted that Ace decided to only release it in mass market paperback as I've read few novels that will appeal to such a broad spectrum of readers.

Control Point begins with a scene too familiar to the American mind -- school shooting.  In this case, the students are shooting fire.  Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with magical talents. Untrained and panicked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set everything they touch ablaze.  They're latents, young people incapable of controlling in-born magical power, and because of it they've been marked for termination.

Oscar Britton, Cole's protagonist, is an officer attached to the military's Supernatural Operations Corps.  His mission is to bring order to a world gone mad.  An archetypal military officer, Britton believes in his government despite struggling to obey orders in conflict with his personal code.  Having read Cole's reflection on his time spent serving in Iraq, I can only venture a guess at the nascence of Britton's internal conflict.  When Britton suddenly manifests a power of his own, he's forced to reevaluate his conflict and his answer is to run.

He doesn't get very far and in that moment he becomes a part of Shadow Ops.  I won't say anymore as the revelation of where things go from there is a real treat.  Cole moves away from what resembles urban fantasy and into something wholly new.  Control Point isn't urban fantasy or military science fiction (I've seen it referred to as both), but rather a blending of the two -- military urban fantasy.  It's a combination I've not seen before and one that works because of Cole's authentic point of view as an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

To have a discussion about the novel, it's almost mandatory to know something about Cole himself.  He did three tours in Iraq -- some as a security contractor and some as a Coast Guard officer.  He's served as a government civilian, working Coun­tert­er­rorism and Cyber War­fare and he was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill.  Talk to him for a minute and his passion for service is palpable.  Given that, I was stunned by the skeptical lens by which he examines government and those who serve it.  The impetus for the novel begins with the question, what would the government do if magic existed and it was illegal?  Cole's answer is: establish a secret government agency to control it and use it for its own purposes.

Ok, so maybe that's not so much of a leap.  But, beyond that the core of Cole's novel is the conflict of duty and mortality and self-preservation and self-sacrifice.  He forces Britton to make choices about where duty ends -- at what point has the government asked you, as an individual, to do too much to your own humanity to continue?  Taking it a step further, he asks at what point is it your responsibility to fight against the establishment asking you to do those things?  Cole tries to answer these moral riddles, but in so doing admits the answers are as elusive as right and wrong in a world gone gray.

While all of these themes operate beneath the story, the primary take away is that Shadow Ops: Control Point is an absolute blast to read.  Oscar Britton is a fallible, modern character, and Cole surrounds him with a vibrant cast.  The plot won't be confused for a twisty thriller, but it gives a creative world and dynamic characters the space to shine, which they absolutely do.

I received my ARC for Control Point back in October, started it the same day, and finished it two days after.  If you're a lover of fantasy, comic books (X-Men parallels are prevalent), and/or video games, my advice is to run, don't walk, to your nearest bookseller and buy a copy on February 1.  I predict Myke Cole's debut is going to be a monster success -- don't make me wrong.

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At January 4, 2012 at 3:38 PM , Blogger RobB said...

"After finishing it I'm flabbergasted that Ace decided to only release it in mass market paperback as I've read few novels that will appeal to such a broad spectrum of readers."

Yeah, that surprised me, too. I finished the book a couple of days ago and put together the first draft of my review. I'm still wrestling some of the themes Myke covered in the book.

This is a damned good book.

At January 4, 2012 at 4:23 PM , Blogger Elfy said...

Jim Hines gave this one a pretty decent write up on his blog, too. Definitely something I'll be keeping and eye out for.

At January 5, 2012 at 6:11 AM , Blogger Mieneke van der Salm said...

Urgh, I so want this book NOW! Your review and Stefan's over at Civilian Reader have totally whet my appetite. Luckily, hubby is really excited about it too and his birthday is in February, so I'll have an excuse to buy it ;-D

At January 5, 2012 at 6:11 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Waiting for the Kindle version... :drums fingers:

At July 12, 2012 at 3:14 PM , Blogger Gabriel said...

Just finished reading. FANTASTIC! Go buy it! I read it cover to cover starting last nite & finished at work. Could not put it down.


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