A Fiction Review of Shadow Ops: Control Point, by Myke Cole

I had the pleasure of meeting Myke Cole when he came to Madicon last year. He contacted me about appearing as a guest, reading a few things, promoting his book and being involved in panels. Myke was a great guest, friendly, interesting, accommodating, and an all-around good guy to have at the con. Since then, I’ve been looking forward to the chance to read his first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point, the beginning of a new series.

I finished it last week and I wanted to write a review but I needed some time to digest it a little before writing about it. A blurb on the cover describes the story as “Black Hawk Down meets X-men.” That’s not such a bad description — there is certainly a Magneto analogue and a similar theme of “we’re better than the Normals” thread. But the meet of the story, a military tale mixed with resurgent magic in the modern world, is a much more interesting end result.

I don’t want to delve too much into summary or spoiler territory. The story opens with action and feels frenetic and a little disconnected in the beginning. This seems intentional though as the main character, Oscar Britton, provides a human viewpoint on the magical events unfolding in the world. The opening action does a good job of being a hook into the story and sets the stage for what is about to happen well.

Myke Cole uses a series of quotes to open each chapter — not real world quotes — but quotes from sources, news, leaders, military manuals from the world of his story that do a great job of making it feel real and integrated. He did this very effectively and I felt much more comfortable with the world he was creating just based on these snippets of information that echo the soundbites you get from our modern media. For a book all about magic and the military, it does a great job of making the world seem real.

This I think is the greatest strength of the novel. The world-building is handled very well. Even though secrets are revealed and lots of “stuff” (technical term) needs to be explained to the reader, it is all handled with a nice touch that makes the world feel connected and consistent while also allowing the reader to enjoy learning about it. The places, and the structure of the magic is very well crafted and interesting — but to say too much here is dangerous spoiler territory so I’ll move on.

The weakness of this story for me, and the reason I needed to take time out to consider it before writing about it, is the characters. This is not to say anything bad about the characterization in the story. Some of them are a bit thinly drawn (the psycho drill instructor) compared to their importance to the story, but most of them are very human and real. The problem for me lay in the fact that I didn’t really connect to any of them. Not one of the characters in the story makes me want to know what happens to them. As much as I loved the world he created, I struggled with caring about the fate of any of the people. I wasn’t rooting for them to succeed or caring when they failed. Again, I’m sure that others probably connected with someone in this story just fine and found them interesting as all get out… they just didn’t inspire me.

Overall, this is a very solid first book (my standard for comparison being to other first novels — or even second novels I read a lot of). I was really impressed with the crafting of the world and the magic system. I will almost certainly read further books in the series to see what develops out of the events of the first book (and to hopefully find that connection to a character). And I would definitely recommend the book to anyone who likes modern fantasy/urban fantasy/military fantasy. Definitely worth a read.

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