REVIEW: Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole

REVIEW SUMMARY: A promising start with a new take on fantasy and military fiction.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Around the world, people begin to develop magical powers. Oscar Britton is an army officer in Vermont, and following a mission, finds that he’s developed a forbidden talent for opening portals. Immediately, he’s turned from a member of the military to fugitive.

PROS: A fun, fast-paced military novel that draws upon Cole’s experience as a military contractor.
CONS: Slow, hard start makes this one a difficult one to initially get into.
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining debut novel from a promising author.

Myke Cole’s debut novel, Shadow Ops: Control Point is a fun, promising read — one that’s arriving on a wave of good reviews, and the start to a new series that has a bright future. Taking an unconventional route, Cole mixes his military experience with fantasy, rather than science fiction, and lets the action loose from the first pages.

Oscar Britton is a member of the U.S. Military in a world gone fantastic: across the world, people have begun to develop magical abilities, often with alarming consequences. So-called ‘Selfers’, individuals who refuse to turn themselves in, are hunted down after a series of bloody accidents. At the same time, groups of resistance fighters spring up across the world as crackdowns ensue. Following a mission to take out a pair of selfers in South Burlington, Vermont, Britton manifests with a forbidden ability and goes on the run, only to be tracked down and captured. Once in US Army custody, he’s given an offer he literally can’t refuse: accept a presidential pardon and join up as a contractor. Left with little choice (and a bomb in his chest), he accepts and begins to learn how to use his powers. As his training progresses, he begins to question everything that he’s come to know.

Control Point is a fun, engaging read, one that draws upon vivid military action and a unique take on fantasy that makes me wonder why we haven’t seen anything like it so far. Cole’s penned a book that essentially asks: what happens when you take the U.S. Army and drop them into a fantasy world where the rules are all different? The answer? Something that looks startlingly like the wars overseas in Afghanistan: protracted, confusing and bloody.

Since the US operations in the Middle East began, I’ve wondered when speculative fiction will catch up: many of the military science fiction classics have drawn from the wars that proceeded them, and Control Point joins a small but growing pool of books that really take their inspiration from current events. Cole’s own experience as a military contractor lend a certain amount of authority to what happened, and from everything that I’ve heard, learned and watched over the last couple of years, this book seems to nail the details dead to rights. Insurgents are replaced by natives of The Source, a fantastic land on another plane. The result is a little top-heavy at times, but it gets the point across nicely.

On top of that, there’s a schoolboy rush as he sets modern day warriors into a fantasy world, where everyone is just a little out of their element. In particular, imagining a US APC roaring around Middle Earth against an army of Orcs is just fun to read. But there’s some great commentary on how the Afghanistan conflict has been playing out, especially once the COIN doctrine was implemented as a way to combat insurgency operations: much of this comes down to understanding, and the points that really captured my attention weren’t the combat or magic, but the ways in which the US contractors treated the natives, how the US soldiers perceived them, and how Britton differed from them. It’s a sobering idea that it’s likely close to real life.

Together with the on-the-ground details, there’s plenty to mull over with this read. Cole touches on the power that’s available to the Armed Forces in a time of uncertainty (read: The War On Terror), and what happens when you begin to outsource a war to the lowest-bidding contracting firm. It’s a modern, relevant and highly gripping read: I found myself blowing through hundred-page sections in a short amount of time.

Despite that, the book does have its rough patches: the beginning is very rough, with some awkward situations, annoying characters and stiff dialogue that sometimes carries through the novel, before smoothing out for the middle and end sections. It takes the book a little while to get situated, but once it does so, it breezes along nicely.

Central to all of this is Britton, who’s caught in an impossible situation: try to escape and get killed by the government that he once served, or stand and try and serve as best as possible. The result is a story of a man trying to find where his morals really lie, and here, Cole really does an excellent job in fully crafting a dynamic cast of characters and a world to place them in. Control Point is a fun read, and it really lives up to the cover blurb from Peter V. Brett: it’s very much like Black Hawk Down meets the X-Men. Already, I wonder what Cole’s got up his sleeve for us next.

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