Hey, guys. Welcome to another edition of You Should Read This. Today, I’ll tell you all about the debut novel by Myke Cole, and the first entry in his Shadow Ops series, Shadow Ops: Control Point.
Book blurb, courtesy of Amazon.com.
Army Officer. Fugitive. Sorcerer.
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.
Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieutenant attached to the military’s Supernatural Operations Corps, his mission is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly manifests a rare and prohibited magical power, transforming him overnight from government agent to public enemy number one.
The SOC knows how to handle this kind of situation: hunt him down—and take him out. Driven into an underground shadow world, Britton is about to learn that magic has changed all the rules he’s ever known, and that his life isn’t the only thing he’s fighting for.
Like a lot of books I’ve recommended, Shadow Ops: Control Point (and the Shadow Ops series in general) is Urban Fantasy. But there’s two things that differentiate it from most UF books: first, it’s set in an Unmasked World, meaning that magic and the supernatural are out in the open, rather than being secret; second, the protagonist is part of the military, rather than being yet another detective or similar character.
And if anything, those make this series something really special. Unmasked Worlds aren’t exactly the norm in UF, and while this book is told largely from a military perspective, Cole does provide hints at how the world has responded to the sudden appearance of magic. There’s mention of Europe being under the control of an anti-magic Muslim Caliphate (a concept which I personally find unlikely, but we’ll get to that later), and the Chinese government has worked to integrate magic-users into various aspects of their society – there’s mention of using earth-magic in construction projects, for example. And in the US, magic-users are conscripted into military service, a decision which has resulted in an armed rebellion led largely by Native American magic-users.
And while I haven’t personally served in the military, I’m willing to bet that the depiction of life in the armed services is pretty accurate, because Myke Cole is himself a veteran, having served in Iraq. But it’s not all chest-thumping über-patriotism; the military in the novel does a lot of questionable, if not out-right bad stuff, beginning with forcefully conscripting magic-users. Yes, there are good soldiers, and nothing they do is ever entirely evil, but they’re not all shinning paragons of virtue, either. And I like that, because I think it’s a very realistic approach to the military in the modern world.
But while the book is great, it’s not without its faults, three of which really stood out to me.
The first (and probably most nit-picky) is with the naming convention for magic – the names for just about every type of magic classified by the US government is an example of whatevermancy. Water magic is “hydromancy”; fire magic is “pyromancy”; etc. But then there’s earth magic, which is referred to at “terramancy”. Now, you might be wondering why this bothers me. Well, here’s why – it doesn’t fit the naming convention. Every other elemental magic uses the Greek name of the element (which actually makes sense), but earth magic uses the Latin. So, logically, earth magic should be “geomancy”. Yes, it’s a stupid, minor complaint, but I have trouble believing that no one would have brought this up at some point.
The next one is also minor, but it really threw me out of the story. As I mentioned before, Europe has been taken over by an anti-magic Muslim Caliphate. While it’s only mentioned once, that instance really threw me out of the story. Though I don’t know the religious demographics of Europe, and this book was published in 2012, I have trouble buying into the idea of many European countries (particularly countries like France, which I believe is specifically mentioned) would somehow come under the control of a fundamentalist Muslim government, especially one that not only doesn’t make use of, but actively opposes the use of magic. Maybe this gets explained in a later book, but at the moment, I just don’t see how this could come about.
My third problem is more one of craft than the writing itself. This will contain minor spoilers so if you don’t want anything ruined, just skip down a bit.
[SPOILERS BEGIN HERE]
Okay, so after Britton’s powers manifest, he goes on the run, as explained in the blurb. He manifests in a military hospital, and manages to escape. He tries going to his parents, then things go bad, and he runs. Then he goes to a friend’s workplace, realizes he has nowhere to go, and tries to surrender. Then, for no apparent reason, he changes his mind, and escapes for a third time. Finally, he ends up at a farm of some random guy. The farmer calls the authorities, and Britton is finally captured by the military.
My issue here is that the “something goes wrong, Britton flees” cycle is repeated one too many times for my tastes. This violates the standard Rule of Three. I get what Cole was going for here. Britton’s powers alienate him from his fellow soldiers, his family, his friends, even complete strangers – there’s nowhere that he’ll be safe. But I can’t shake the feeling that the book could have been slimmed down a bit if Britton had just surrendered after his friend doesn’t help him, or if the run-in with his friend had been removed all together. The extra repetition of this cycle feels like fluff to me, and there’s plenty of other stuff that could have been done to fill out the word count.
[SPOILERS END HERE]
I also have some issues with Britton’s motivations. I’m okay with him changing his views of the military as time goes on, but those views seem to flip from positive to negative and back again far too easily, in my opinion. I can get behind them flipping once (say, when the military turns on him after he manifests), but I have trouble buying how easily they change again later on. There’s another character who has the same flip, and I see even less reason for her change of opinion, other than some form of cult-like indoctrination, which I don’t think would work, given what we learn about her background.
But despite my complaints, the book is still pretty good. The world could use a bit of fleshing-out, but that’s to be expected from the first book in a series, and from what we do see, Cole has a lot of interesting ideas to work with.