Myke Cole,
Shadow Ops: Control Point
(Ace, 2011)

The first thing you need to know about Myke Cole is that he is military -- three tours in Iraq, recalled to service during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. So when he writes about things military, he knows what he's talking about. And this book is nothing if not armycentric; Cole even includes a glossary of military terms in the back of the book.

The next thing you want to keep in mind is that Cole has evidently played a lot of fantasy role playing games and has always, all his life, wanted to be a fantasy writer.

The last thing you need to know is that Shadow Ops: Control Point combines the two things you need to know; it's not a sword-and-sorcery adventure, exactly; the author describes it as "shoot and sorcery." It takes place in a world a lot like ours, with a military force pretty much exactly like ours -- with one big difference: this one fights people with magical powers.

It seems all over the country people are manifesting magical abilities. Control and order are gone, what with people raising the dead, blowing up firestorms, setting off huge explosions with their minds and stuff like that. Everyone is latently magical and no one knows when he will erupt in uncontrollable powers, so the army has set up the SOC -- Supernatural Operations Corps -- to restore order to the universe.

Oscar Britton is a lieutenant in the SOC until he unfortunately manifests and, afraid of his own power, goes on the run. Harlequin, a commissioned sorcerer in the SOC, tracks him down, captures him and, before he knows what is happening, Britton becomes a pawn in the war between the forces of society and the forces of magic, forced to fight.

And fighting is what Shadow Ops is about. It is an action book, one battle scene after another. Cole revels in building the battle scenes, enlivening them with sensory details that bring the fights alive. If you like action, well-rendered scenes of military force being used, you'll love this book. If you love military dialogue captured by a man who has been there and knows it, you'll find this book authentic. If, however, you're more into nuance and character development, well, there you're going to find Shadow Ops a little light.

Cole makes some of the mistakes of a first novelist; his dialogue is sometimes repetitive; he seems to be operating from the "more is more" philosophy, repeating points he has already made, and his pace is frantic, breath-taking. He doesn't believe in occasionally slowing down to give his reader a chance to relax; instead of playing with the tension levels for effect, he ratchets them up and leaves them there.

Shadow Ops is the first in a series and shows great promise. It'll be interesting to see where Cole goes from here.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

26 November 2011

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