Shadow Ops: Control Point
Shadow Ops: Control Point is the debut novel of Myke Cole. Myke Cole himself was an Army officer, a contractor and federal employee before writing this and draws deeply on his experiences... To write a book about a heroic Army officer defying the evil government. It's gonna be a thing guys.
Shadow Ops takes place in the year 20*coughmumblecough* and things have changed dramatically! Magic (or something sorta like magic but not really!) has returned to the world... In a kinda half ass way if you're a shadowrun fan (look I'm sorry, but I didn't see anyone turn into a Troll and I sure as hell didn't see any Dragons run for President in this book!) but it'll do for government work. See, a small percentage of people have started developing inborn abilities that are... Well... Magical. These inborn abilities are for the most part classified into categories called schools. There are the traditional Greek elementalists (fire, earth, air and water) and the healers with the ability to mend or rend flesh. They're the "legal" schools (I'll get back to this). Then there are the illegal or probe schools. Negramancy (aka rot magic), Whispering (animal control), Elemental summoning, Necromancy and Portals. Displaying any of these inborn abilities you have no choice (expect whispering) in having is breaking the law and you will be hunted down by military magic users for your crimes (of existing). The legal schools have it better! You have a choice. You can join the Army... Or be hunted down and killed. Wait what was that? Join the ARMY!?!
NO! No! no! Nope! Uh Huh! Not happening! FLAG ON THE PLAY! NO FIRST DOWN!
Let me explain it like this. You got people who can now fly, control the weather, summon fire, instant create massive earthworks or heal massive injuries with no scars and you think the other armed services are just gonna meekly let the Army have a monopoly over them? What you don't think the guy who can weather wouldn't be useful for carrier ops? Or water control wouldn't be handy for submarine ops? Do I even have to touch on the healers? The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force would rather see the Pentagon burn to ashes before they let the fucking Army be the only ones with this resource. And don't tell me that SOC (Supernatural Operations Command) is a joint service venture. They use Army ranks, Army terminology, refer themselves as Army and answer to Army officers! This is a crack in the old Suspension of Disbelief but honestly I doubt anyone with any military experience would catch it. So we'll let Cole unrealistically and blatantly favor his old service. And no Cole, giving us Marines the bone of the Suppression Lances isn't good enough.
Anyways... Moving on.
The book opens onto school shooting. A magic school shooting! Which honestly is well done. It shows us what's it like to confront magic users, even unskilled ones flailing about in a panic. Two kids with no training in their magic powers manage to destroy US Army Kiowa helicopter (the use of Kiowas, Blackhawks and Apaches tells me this isn't that far in the future) and nearly fatally wound at least 1 Soldier despite being confronted by a full team of armed men and an Army trained Sorcerer. The scene conveys the sheer chaoticness of combat and the danger of magic users effectively, efficiently and avoids the usual sin of starting a book with massive info dumping. I liked it!
The problem is the opener also introduces us to our main character Lt. Oscar Britton. Before I tear into him, let me mention what I like about Oscar... I like that he isn't a generic white cookie cutter protagonist. He's instead a black man who is struggling with situation while trying to keep from being an emo crybaby. Sadly he quickly becomes the living example of why butterbars are usually not beloved by us lowly enlisted men. No. That's not fair. Lt. Britton is worse then any butterbar, 1st Lt Platoon leader I've ever had to deal with (keep in mind as a Cpl I didn't have much contact with even Lt.s and frankly I liked it that way!). You see your average USMC Lt can at least MAKE UP HIS FUCKING MIND! Lt. Britton waffles and flips more often then waffle being juggled by a Vegas showmen! HE! JUST! CAN'T! MAKE! UP! HIS! FUCKING! MIND! Half way through the book I didn't even care what he did anymore just as long as he fucking picked something! ANYTHING ASSHOLE, JUST SOMETHING! ARRRRGGGGHHHH!
After the battle while in the hospital keeping an eye on his injured man, Britton manifests an illegal ability. He's thinking with Portal. And Glados ain't having it! Oscar finds himself teleporting in between our world and someplace else. A very dangerous someplace else that ends up killing two people (one his asshole abusive father, the other a poor bastard of a cop just trying to do his job. In 30 pages he'll change his mind between flight and surrender about 3 or so times. Which means he flip flops every 10 pages... He doesn't quite keep to this average but damn it feels like it. Well Oscar is caught and instead of being killed like everyone assumes happens to illegals, he secreted away to a top secret base in the very someplace else he's been gating to! Where an International Base has been set up to study the secrets of this alternate world full of strange creature (Rocs! Goblins! Talking Demon Horses of Doom! We're talking the good weird shit man!) called the Source. As it's believed to be the source of magic (clearly the name was created in committee). The base feels like it was lifted right out of Afghanistan or Iraq, complete with using natives (in this case goblins) as civilian workers who aren't liked or trusted by most of the military personnel. Due to other goblin tribes constantly attacking the base. It's very well done.
Here we find out that one of the kids from the school shooting was given the same deal as Oscar. Only she's more gung ho about it. Oscar has doubts (then he won't, then he will, then he won't). What follows is a training montage which is actually pretty good, course the trainer is a pure grade asshole! A hard drinking Warrant Officer who has just enough magical ability to suppress other's abilities (if you have magic you can suppress someone else's magic, but then you can't do anything else, this is a neat addition to the magic system and I have to applaud Cole for it). See Oscar is a now an unpaid contractor (well, he's being paid but his wages are being garnished at 100%) who can quit at any time but then they'll trigger the bomb they've planted in his chest. And you thought the exit clauses in your job contract were bad right?
Through the course of his training Oscar meets magic users who are for the system, neutral or deeply against. Some just refuse to cooperate (the No No Crew) others intend to escape and kill their way to the top (you'll know her when you meet her). Others are just trying to muddle through. This part... Really kinda of drags. It's not awful and only really becomes noticeable on a 2nd read through but it does kinda drag and get info-dumpy. The other characters aren't really fleshed out very well either. We're told things about them, things are suggested about them but they're not fleshed out or developed. Saying character X suffered Y lost isn't development guys, you need to go farther. We simply don't get to spend time with them, instead it's all about Oscars rather tedious waffling and doubts. Which makes me grit my teeth. It's also here we get some scraps of world info. India, Russia and Japan all have their own Magic-Corps who are on the base. China has it's own system and doesn't appear on base at all.
The European Caliphate (this was another thing that broke my SOD, I mean really? Euro Caliphate? In under 20 years? Seriously?) outlaws all magic... Which leads to the problem of how a very small minority in Europe who have thrown the best weapon possible under the bus is somehow dominating an entire continent? Plus even if Muslims became the economic/politically dominate class in Europe... I don't see them all uniting. The Turks in Germany don't share anything besides a religion with the North Africans in France. Not a language, common hertiage, nothing. A Turkish dominated Germany isn't going to pursue union with a North African dominated France, or a South Asian dominated British or Somali dominated Finland... And I'm thinking to hard about this aren't I?
But the important thing was that all Muslim powers it seems ban all magic or at least all the Muslim extremists. Because Muslim. Which we are still fighting. Where was I?
More fun is the section of the book where Oscar and company go on missions! This is the section where Oscar waffles over to being pro part of the system in the idea that he can help people and protect them from dangerous things. Cole does a good job showing us those things and is rather inventive in how people could use these powers but frankly injects tensions between asshole mcdrunk trainer and Oscar that doesn't really need to be there but hey we got to get Oscar to change his mind (AGAIN!) somehow. This leads to daring escape or cascade of major fuck ups that will get many many innocent people killed but hey Oscar and his small band of magic users and goblin buddies now get to be free!
This book isn't bad... But the main character is deeply unlikeable! He's self righteous despite never being able to make up his mind on anything! Any sin of his is suppose to be forgiven while the mistakes and sins of others are deep character flaws! And worse? He gets smug. Lt Britton What The Fuck Do You Have to be Smug about? The end of the book is also somewhat sudden and choppy with a plot twist that's not very well foreshadowed. Plus I hated Oscar's speech at the end. I really did. I mean really did. The magic system is good, but is somewhat brought down for me because it feels like a simplified version of Larry Correia's Hard Magic system, which is an incredibly complex and interesting system but I won't discuss it here. It's very much a first book and as such I kinda feel Cole hasn't really hit his stride. The combat scenes are really well done, but the characters are either very undeveloped or deeply unlikeable. The Pacing isn't perfect, dragging in the middle and rushing a bit in the end but it isn't bad. The Worldbuilding is servable but there are bits that stick out and crack my SOD.
Shadow Ops: Control Point gets a C-
It's an interesting story but the cracks in the SOD and the fact that I have to spend so long with a character I would love to set on fire with my mind drags it down. Still this is Myke Cole's first book and I have every hope that he will improve. That said... I'm never reading this book again.
You know what that's three rather under performing fiction books in a row... This was not what I had in mind. I need something as a pick me up. I'm gonna go read Lost Fleet!