Because of outside forces, I was compelled into reading Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole, and I have to say that the old adage is true. You should not judge a book by its cover. Initially, I was turned off by the cover because it’s overtly masculine. It reeked of “dude book,” and I wasn’t excited about reading it, but I thought I should give it a shot. By Chapter 4 I was completely engrossed and thoroughly blown away. While some of the characterization could use some work, overall, I was intrigued by Cole’s ability to create a completely realistic world and magic system while using his military background to provide a new and interesting spin on a fantasy world.
The protagonist of this book is Oscar Britton, an Army officer who has unexpectedly Manifested a magical skill that is prohibited by the United States government. He expects to be assassinated as a result of this skill, so, naturally, he runs. Unlike most protagonists of fantasy novels, Britton makes some bad decisions and must suffer the very real and very grim consequences of his own actions. When he is eventually apprehended by the Supernatural Operations Corps (SOC), he learns about a darker side to our government, and as a result questions everything he believes in and everything that made him a loyal and dedicated member of the Army.
There are a couple of things I found intriguing about this book. First of all, while I felt that the cover makes the book appear to be overtly masculine and potentially laden with testosterone and military oorah, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was not the case. Britton grapples with others’ complete and unquestioning loyalty to an organization he finds to be morally suspect. Although I found that his constant wavering back and forth on his feelings and then sudden decision at the end to be a bit unrealistic and slightly underdeveloped, it was refreshing to see that a lot of the action was internal rather than just gratuitous violence that did nothing to advance the plot.
Secondly, I really enjoyed the world building. The Source, the world that is seemingly parallel our own that holds the origins of magic, is a dark and twisted place for the most part, and the creatures are interesting. Marty, the goblin, is unfortunately not a very deep character given his pivotal role in Britton’s decision-making at the end, but he does provide a way to identify with some of the magical creatures represented in the book. Ultimately, I felt that the Source was very Clive Barker-esque, and I really look forward to learning more about its origins in future installments of this series.
I only had a couple of issues with some of the characterization, but I feel that as the “set-up” novel for an entire series, it’s tough to get deep characterization when there is world building and groundwork to lay for future books. We shall see how things develop in the next ones. My main trouble in terms of realism was with a certain scene in which I felt Therese reacted rather unrealistically to being basically kidnapped and forced into a battle against her will. She barely puts up a fight, and her only “reprimand” for Britton is to cast him dirty looks and give him the silent treatment. There is no real romantic relationship established between the two of them yet, and I don’t really find it believable that she would be in love with him enough to just let him make her do the one vicious act that she swore she would never do again. And Britton’s only reaction to this is to say “that’s going to hurt later.” Even so, while I am not a huge fan of how this scene progressed, I was find with how the rest of the women were portrayed. I see some real potential for Scylla to become interesting and complicated (in a good way), and I’m curious to see how Downer develops as well since she was so unwavering in her loyalty to the government despite all of the cruddy things it did to her (including killing her boyfriend, with her response being, ‘well I didn’t like him much anyways’….?).
So, in summary, I really dig the world and the magic system, but I would love to see a little bit more depth to the characters. Because much of the struggle was internal for Britton, and the action scenes were meant to be realistic and not a glorification of war and chest-thumping males, I find this book to be far less “dude-y” than I originally thought it would be (which I realize is also pretty sexist and short-sighted of me, but sometimes you can’t help how you engage with a piece of art, especially when you grew up near a military base and have some preconceived notions to work around). I was engaged from beginning to end, and I would definitely recommend it to both male and female friends. The cover would never have suggested that it would be equally appealing to both men and women, but I’m really glad I picked it up.
4 out of 5 stars.