When I reviewed Myke Cole’s first Shadow Ops book, Control Point, back in 2012 I found that the book had a great premise, a fascinating world and thrilling action. I was less than enthused with the novel’s main character Oscar Britton. In Fortress Frontier, the second Shadow Ops novel, Cole expanded the characters and the world by introducing Colonel Bookbinder. The split perspective of that novel, primarily between Bookbinder and Britton, made for some better reading and the expanded world made for amazing set pieces. Breach Zone takes things to the next level and (re)introduces Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorrson, aka Harlequin, as a central figure. After the events of Fortress Frontier, and with the previous Presidential administration on the outs, Thorsson has become the public “face” of the Supernatural Operations Corps (SOC). At the same time General Bookbinder has been moved into an advisory role thanks to his borderline “treasonous” actions in Fortress Frontier. All of that changes when goblins and other creatures, lead by Scylla, invade Manhattan. Pulled out of his PR position, Thorsson is placed in charge of the defense with limited support from SOC brass.
Listen you should probably just stop reading this review now. No. Seriously. Go out, grab yourself a stack of Myke Cole novels and settle in for a few days. It’ll be worth it I swear. Shadow Ops is a scary good series. I’m not sure “military fantasy” existed as a genre before Myke Cole but I know now that I want more. Cole has used fantasy in the same vein as science fiction taking magic (rather than science) and imagining how its appearance might affect our world and society at large; managing to tell a damned fine story in the process. Breach Zone is probably the most familiar feeling of the series as it is a “last stand” story as Harlequin and forces try to hold Manhattan against a force with superior numbers. However, while telling the tale of Harlequin’s battle in Manhattan Cole interweave’s a tale from Harlequin’s past. It’s a narrative device the works well expanding the lore of Cole’s world while providing important context for the story taking place in the present.
Breach Zone brings together all of the lead characters seen in the series so far but leaves the primary narrative to Harlequin and Bookbinder. Harlequin, who in Control Point, was a strong believer in the SOC and it’s cause has changed somewhat thanks to previous event’s in the series. His change of opinion, predicated mainly on doing what is right by those who served beneath and alongside him, is a fascinating and enthralling journey. The change, while gradual, isn’t a complete reversal of his beliefs and Cole does a magnificent job of describing, primarily through flashbacks, how Harlequin became so entrenched in, and enthralled by, the system. With Bookbinder in Fortress Frontier and Harlequin in Breach Zone, Myke Cole has absolutely stepped up his characterization game offering two well-rounded and dynamic characters who, flaws and all, feel like living breathing people. Taking things a step further Cole actually manages to humanize Scylla. There are moments in the story where beneath the facade of the mother of monsters there is glimpsed someone else entirely. Rather than seeing Scylla simply as the bogey(wo)man Cole manages to tap into a rich vein of human drama that lends a more personal air to the action unfolding on the streets of Manhattan.
Each Shadow Ops novel has improved considerably over the last and Breach Zone definitely continues that trend. Shadow Ops stands strong as a trilogy with this latest novel bringing the current story to a satisfying conclusion while still leaving room for potential exploration later down the line. Myke Cole is an author to watch. With Breach Zone and the Shadow Ops series Cole has brought military fantasy a modern touch creating a memorable and vivid world that I would love to read more about. The bottom line is this: read the Shadow Ops series.