Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole (Ace, Jan. 2012)-Lieutenant Oscar Britton is part of the SOC (Supernatural Operations Corps). He loves his job, but when his unit corners a couple of teenage Selfers on the rooftop of their school, he’s forced to do the unthinkable. Selfers are magic users who choose to flee the powers that be when their magic manifests and use their abilities at their own whims. When Britton manifests magical ability of his own, and a prohibited type (which makes him a Probe), at that, he goes on the run, knowing exactly what his people will do to him if he’s caught. After a confrontation with his parents that leaves him shaken and rudderless, Britton is taken down by the SOC, court martialed, and can never serve in the military again. However, he’s one of the rarest of Probes, a Portamancer, and the SOC has given him a choice: join Entertech Corporation, an SOC vendor, and satisfy the terms of his presidential pardon, or die. See, a device called an Asset Tracking and Termination Device (ATTD) has been implanted in Britton’s heart, and it not only tracks him wherever he goes, but also doubles as a bomb. Britton is essentially a slave to Entertech, and they mean to take whatever they can from him. He’s taken to another plane, called The Source, where he will train to control his magic. Soon he begins to feel a camaraderie with his fellow trainees, and, like he did in the military, feel like he’s part of something bigger and important. Things aren’t always what they seem, however, as Britton soon finds out as he begins to explore his new “home”, and secrets are slowly, but surely, revealed.
Before I go on, I have to admit I haven’t read much military science fiction. That said, the blurb by Peter V. Brett states Shadow Ops is like “Black Hawk Down meets The X-Men”, so I was all in! In Shadow Ops, Myke Cole has built a fascinating, multi-planar world in chaos, featuring all manner of mystical and magical creatures. For example, the Source has Goblins. Lots of Goblins. They’re used by Entertech as
indentured servants employees and there’s one little Goblin in particular, Marty, who has the gift of healing and steals the show multiple times. There are the No-Nos which have been captured but refuse training and rebel against their keepers. And of course, there is Britton’s group, the Shadow Coven (the magic behind the magic).
Let’s talk about Britton for a minute. Britton is a bruiser and revels in being in the military, yet once he’s drafted into Entertech, he becomes, at times, a quivering ball of angst. On one hand, it was frustrating, but on the other hand, I sort of got it. This is a man whose world was pretty set. All he knew was the military. Coming from a troubled home caused him to latch onto the SOC as his sort of “foster home” and being dumped into Entertech, not to mention the realization that he’s the very thing he used to hunt, would send anyone in to a tailspin. I did want to shake him at times and tell him to buck up, because the man flip-flopped more than a fish out of water. That said, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the book, and in fact, it says a lot about an author’s talent when he or she can make up for a weaker character with the sheer awesomeness of the supporting characters and the world building. And what a world! The compound in the Source is besieged every evening by Goblins and you can easily imagine the sights and sounds of the barrage, and Shadow Ops is a book infused with magic, so much magic! I love the concept of Portamancy and the creativity infused into each discipline is a delight. There are Hydromancers, Terramancers, Aeromancers (and much more), and then there’s Scylla. She’s kept in a box. She’s a scary,scary lady. I’ll let you experience her for yourself.
Shadow Ops is a book chock full of magic, mayhem, cinematic fight scenes, and perhaps most surprisingly, it will actually make you think. The author tackles some pretty heavy themes (ie: being true to yourself, sacrifice for the greater good and even human subjugation), without being too heavy handed, and, the angsty Britton aside, these are the things that landed this book on my Best of 2012 list. This is one of the strongest, most promising debuts I’ve read in a while, and the author has so many places he can go with this series it boggles the mind. After all, Myke Cole knows of what he speaks. The man has done three (3!!!) in Iraq. Also, if you’re worried about military terms and acronyms, there’s a nifty glossary in the back, so he’s got you covered. Keep an eye out for the 2nd book in the series, Fortress Frontier, out soon!