Review of Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops: Control Point (Possibly Minor Spoilers)

I’ve been thinking for a little while now about doing reviews here every once in a while, but I wasn’t sure how to implement it/how to decide what to do. In the end, I decided that I would only do reviews of books I’ve recently read, as opposed to books I read a while back. That way it’ll be a more proper review I think, not colored by all the time I’ve had to think about it or other things I’ve read.

Before I begin though, I though I should share the story of how Control Point came to be the first book I’m reviewing here, because I find it amusing. Last week, I saw a post on Twitter by Myke Cole, mentioning a panel he would be a part of that night called Dragons in Space, organized by Tor books and taking place not far from me.  I wanted to go, but I had a problem: a night class that evening that would make it impossible to go. And I replied as such on Twitter. Before long, I got a reply from Mr. Cole, “Blow it off! You’ll learn a hell of a lot more here, and on a topic you care about more.”

Very true, I thought. After thinking on it a little while, I overcame my ‘good student’ nature that tries to avoid missing class, and decided to go. The panel, which also featured authors Peter V. Brett and Ellen Kushner, was great, as expected. And of course, I knew that I would have to introduce myself to Mr. Cole during the signing portion at the end, and I decided to pick up a copy of his first book, Control Point, as well. That resulted in both a fun conversation (he is a great guy), and the funniest thing an author has ever written in one of my books. (He basically takes credit for the any decline in my education that may have stemmed from skipping that class. 😀 )

Now that that’s out of the way, I can get to the book itself (which ate into school time as well, as I read it when I should have been doing other work). Shadow Ops: Control Point is the first in a series (followed by Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier), and I would classify it as a military fantasy, already different from my usual fare, a lot of epic fantasy with some urban fantasy on the side. I don’t think I’ve even read a military sci-fi before.

Control Point takes place in a near future United States, in a world where people have begun to manifest magical abilities. People who show such abilities are quickly located and drafted into the army’s Supernatural Operations Corps (SOC). Refusing is not an option, and running only makes things worse. Even worse off are people called ‘Probes’, who have manifested ‘prohibited’  talents, such as Necromancy.

Our protagonist is Lieutenant Oscar Britton, who works with the SOC on missions to take down ‘selfers’–magic users who don’t turn themselves in–and ‘probes’. He is already having second thoughts about some of his orders when he manifests a forbidden ability–becoming a ‘probe’ himself.

Britton’s life is quickly turned upside-down and he is thrust into a perilous, even more morally questionable situation as he is forced to decide between the law and his personal morals.

Control Point was a very quick read. The paperback is only 382 pages long, and the book reads like a thriller in that you don’t want to stop reading–you just have to know what happens next.

Since this is my first book review, I think I should set up a basic template for the review. As I am a writer as well, I will focus this review on the basic building blocks of a story. So I will go through and give my thoughts on the books setting, characters, plot, and since the magic features heavily, the magic as a separate section.

Setting: I said a lot about the setting when I introduced the book, but there is still a bit more to add. As military fantasy would imply, the story takes place in a military environment, and this is conveyed very well–Mr. Cole’s personal experiences in the US armed forces were certainly put to good use in making the setting feel more authentic. Additionally, much of the book takes place in another world. While it isn’t explored all that much (I hope that in future installments we will see more of it), what we do see is well thought out, and intriguing enough that I want to learn more about it.

Characters: As mentioned earlier, the book’s protagonist and viewpoint character is Oscar Britton, an army officer turned fugitive–all because of his magical ability manifesting. As the only viewpoint character in the novel, we see everything through his eyes, which works well, as the primary conflict in the novel is his internal one. You really sympathize with him and sympathize with his situation, which makes his struggle to decide what to do something worth caring about. Something I liked in particular is that Britton is very much a fallible character. Several times he makes mistakes, including some major ones (one of which we as the reader knew all along would end badly, while we can still understand his choice.) Additionally, I was unable to predict what Britton’s ultimate choice would be as he wavered back and forth throughout the book. (It’s hard to put that into more detail without spoilers.) Since so much was riding on that choice, I was pleased that the tension never lessened.

The supporting cast did their job well; I liked the characters I think I was meant to like, and hated those I think I was meant to hate. One character in particular, Marty, stood out among the crowd however, and I would probably classify him as the primary supporting characters.

Plot: I won’t get too deep into the plot here (that would involve spoilers), so I will just say my feelings on it. In short, I enjoyed it. It was very engaging, and I was quite invested. As I said earlier, I found the book hard to put down. It moved at a nice clip most of the time, but it took time to have some slower, lighter sections to allow me to catch my breath a bit (and have a good place to pause if I really have to go to sleep).

Magic: And, the magic. Cole makes use of the relatively standard elemental magic, but he adds some unique twists to the system. In addition to the expected air, fire, and water magic, we also have different schools of magic, such as necromancy, portal magic, and flesh magic. What I like about the different magics is that they are all amped up to what you might expect people skilled in magic would be able to do. For example, Aeromancers, people who use air magic, can control the weather, including lightning–more than you might normally see in similar magic types. What I found more interesting and innovative, however, were the clever things that magic users could do, such as Terramancers (who control earth) being able to learn to talk to and command animals. However, the honor of the most innovative use of magic (at least in my view) is flesh magic. It has the obvious use for healing, and that is what it is usually used for. However, in Control Point, there is a parallel aspect of healing–Rending. Rending is the opposite of healing–it’s user can horribly damage peoples’ bodies, and it is put to devastating effect in the story. When you think about it, this use is obvious–if you can manipulate a body to heal, why not to damage?–but I never would have thought of it. An excellent twist to a tried and true magic type.

So as you might surmise, I very much enjoyed  this book, and I highly recommend it to fantasy fans, as well as fans of stories in a military setting. To put it very simply, it’s a great read.

This review’s gone longer than expected at this point, so I’ll stop here. Hopefully as I do more of these it’ll become smoother, and I’ll refine things as I go along. As many great writers have said, reading is one of the best ways to improve one’s own writing, and I’ve found that looking back at a book for the purposes of review allows me a new perspective that will hopefully help my own writing projects.

So until next time, keep writing, keep reading, and check out Shadow Ops: Control Point!

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