Shadow Ops: Control Point
Recorded Books, 2012 (PB: Ace, 2012)
Shadow Ops: Control Pointby Myke Cole has been something of a critical darling amongst online reviewers. The premise absolutely sounds amazing: people have begun manifesting magical abilitys and in response the US government takes control of the individuals lives, they are after all essentially lethal weapons, and more or less press gangs them into the military service (or forces them to liven in what sounds an awful lot like a breeding experiment). The story follows Oscar Britton a military man intially tasked with bringing down “selfers,” people who go on the run after manifesting magical abilities, but who finds himself on the run after he himself manifests a rare, powerful and highly prohibited magical ability. Forced to join the Supernatural Operations Corps Britton must struggle with guilt of his own actions and with trying to find a place to fit in.
Indeed the world of Shadow Ops: Control Point is a fascinating one. In truth it is this aspect of the novel that I found most compelling. We are introduced to this world years down the line with the policies that regulate magic already long in place. Things are hinted at, events the presaged the very draconian control of magical abilities and Cole shows a deft hand a building a very solid and very real feeling world. The level of control the U.S. Government has is almost disturbing and you can only imagine the type of horrors that had to have occurred in order to enact those policies. On the other hand the novel’s perspective is fairly one-sided. Readers only ever see the military side of things and the general civilian response to these laws is hinted at only in the epitaphs at the beginning of each chapter.
Of course all is not as it seems in the world of Shadow Ops and the manifestation of Oscar’s abilities presages the revelations about the Source of those abilities. Cole keeps the details about the Source, a whole magical realm, obfuscated. The focus on Oscar’s internal conflic, serve the SOP or rebel, taking center stage over what the SOP is doing in the Source. Hints are dropped, careful links between various aspects of the mundane world and magical one but details are never spelled out. As a reader who thrives on mystery this is something that frustrated me to know end. Things like the horror show in the medical tent, the strange shadow creatures, and the connections between the two worlds are exactly the kind of juicy details I absolutely love.
My major problem with the novel is that I don’t like Oscar. That minimizes my feelings a bit. His decision making process is never something I quite understood and there were only a few, a very few, instances where I found myself rooting for him. I don’t want to spoil too much but there is a literal mountain of collateral damage left in Oscar’s wake; so much so that by the end of the novel I pretty much loathed him outright. It doesn’t help what with a few notable exceptions the supporting cast is not much better off. I’ll give most of Shadow Coven a pass in this regard, in fact I liked all of them better than Oscar and they each seemed to making the best of a bad situation (with a touch of Stockholm Syndrome tossed in for good measure). The military characters of the novel are equally detestable and I quickly found myself with no one to really root for during Oscar’s conflict with the SOP. Except for Marty. Marty is the character that redeemed the rest for me. A goblin native to the Source it was Marty who I felt the most sympathy for and Marty whose plight I actually cared about.
My difficulties with the novel aside it was still an entertaining read and I have hopes that in future volumes Oscar will in some way attempt to redeem himself. Cole does a fantastic job of setting up the SOP as the “bad guys.” They’re not really evil, just the product of a flawed system and you are often forced to root for Oscar (mistakes and all) given the types of comprimises that the SOP seems willing to make. The middle section of the novel is the slowest and for me was the most the difficult to get through, things get hung up on Oscar’s indecision and the novel crawls during these chapters. Thankfully some of that indecision is interspersed with action and it in those scenes that Cole’s talent really shines.
The audiobook version was narrated by Corey Jackson and I have to admit I was not a fan of his performance. It isn’t always easy to tell which character is talking and the author’s tendency to forgo dialogue attribution (fine in print) doesn’t always result in the most easy to follow conversations in audio form. It isn’t impossible to listen to and it definitely wasn’t enough to make me stop listening but it was a bit of a distraction and certainly lessened the impact the novel had on me.
Shadow Ops: Control Point is amazing accomplished first novel and well worth a look for fantasy fans looking for something very different. In truth, the novel the bears closer resemblence to military sci-fi like Haldeman’s Forever War or Heinlein’s Starship Troopers than it does to anything by Tolkein. Cole show a deft hand at both action and world building and while I wasn’t a fan of Oscar it should be noted that his decisions and internal strife do follow consistent and logical patterns. I’ll definitely be picking up any future volumes and I highly recommend readers give this book a try.