Around Christmas time, as I was perusing the piles of books I have in my apartment, looking for stuff to bring with me to Belize in January, Myke Cole's debut, Shadow Ops: Control Point initially made it into the rotation. And then, proving yet again how much of a dumbass I can be when I put my mind to it, I elected to bring the new Naomi Novik instead. I know, I know...
Soon, the internet was abuzz with positive reviews of Cole's debut, making me regret my decision. Fortunately, I was rum punching my way through San Pedro and Caye Caulker by then, caught in a perpetual state of happiness that only the sun, the sea, rum, and girls in bikini can bring. However, all too quickly my world came crashing down on me and I was forced to return to reality and winter.
And though I had prior commitments to go through before I could give the novel a shot, I told Myke Cole that I'd be reading Shadow Ops: Control Point as soon as I was done with them. And I'm glad I did, for this book is the absolute shit! A definite frontrunner for the SFF debut of the year, no question about it!
Here's the blurb:
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.
Although the opening chapter of a trilogy, Shadow Ops: Control Point is an introduction to a tale that's much larger in scope that reads like a stand-alone work. Hence, even though the author introduces a lot of cool concepts and fascinating ideas, Cole nevertheless keeps his cards pretty close to his chest. He gives readers a number of tantalizing peeks, yet he doesn't elaborate much on most of them. I would have liked to learn much more about the Supernatural Operations Corps, the Source, the Goblins and other creatures, the act of Manifesting, as well as many other aspects of the worldbuilding. But it was not to be. As a result, it's difficult to judge the depth of Myke Cole's creation, but he definitely piqued my curiosity and you can label me intrigued.
What originally made me drop this book from my Belizean selections was my doubt that this sort of military fantasy could truly work. Boy was I wrong! I don't know if it's because Myke Cole served in the military and did three tours in Iraq, but the guy managed to incorporate magic in military operations in a way that was realistic and exciting. When Peter V. Brett claimed that Cole's debut was "Black Hawk Down meets The X-Men," he was right.
The tale unfolds through the eyes of Oscar Britton, a lieutenant in the Supernatural Operations Corps whose life take a turn for the worse when he Manifests and suddenly becomes public enemy number one. At first, I feared that the main protagonist was a bit too empathic and introspective. That emo side of his seemed to clash with his kick-ass personality. And yet, Britton gradually grows on you and Myke Cole has quite a few surprises in store for him and the readers. A do-gooder whose good intentions often gets him in trouble, Britton goes through a lot of character growth between the covers of this novel. Whether or not this protagonist can carry the series by himself, or if the author will include the POVs of additional characters in the forthcoming sequels, remains to be seen. But as far as this debut is concerned, letting readers experience everything from Britton's point of view allowed us to truly feel the sense of loss and bewilderment that he is forced to go through as his life is turned upside down.
The pace is crips throughout, with not a single dull moment from beginning to end. There are no info-dumps, but some missions are just an excuse for Myke Cole to showcase how magic operates in combat situations. Having said that, most of those are extremely cool and page-turning action sequences. All good!
Sneaky bastard that he is, the author sort of lulls you into a false sense of security in the last portion of the novel. So much so that you feel that the end will be more or less predictable. And then, without warning, he turns the tables on you, coming up with a thrilling finale that makes it well nigh impossible for anyone not to read the second installment. Say one thing about Myke Cole, say that he sure knows how to bring the house down with a bang!
Shadow Ops: Control Point is a fun, intelligent, action-packed, entertaining read with a generous dose of ass-kicking! In all likelihood, this work won't get nominated for any genre awards. But it's been quite a while since I've had this much fun reading a book!
As far as the speculative fiction debut of 2012 is concerned, Myke Cole now sits in pole position. And he'll probably be hard to beat!