Book Review: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone, by Myke Cole (spoilers)

Another of my delayed reviews (nearing the end of those; only 1 more to go before I am more or less up to date). Hopefully, the fact that it’s been a while won’t have too much of a negative impact here (also I’m currently in Israel, without the book, so there’s that.). Otherwise, I’ll be organizing this in my usual fashion, though I may be briefer this time around. Once again, fair disclosure: I’ve met Myke Cole a number of times, and he’s a great guy to hang around, so there’s inevitably a tiny bit of bias in my mind when I read his stuff.

To begin. Breach Zone is the third book in Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops series, and closes the sort of trilogy that began in Control Point. As with the second book in the series, Fortress Frontier, we continue to branch out, as far as viewpoints go, and Breach Zone adds sections set in the past to the new and expanded cast of viewpoints.

Setting:
So, a difference here is that most of the book takes place in Manhattan as opposed to military bases or the Source, which both provides new scenery for the book and for me, as a lifelong New Yorker (though not a Manhattan person by any stretch), it is familiar territory. (And besides, who doesn’t enjoy seeing major cities destroyed in fiction? My own borough of Queens seems to have escaped the chaos in the book, so all’s well. 🙂 ) Of course, we do spend some time elsewhere (if memory serves we do go to the Source at times), and we also have the addition of past New York (again, I’m relying on memory here), where we learn Scylla’s backstory, something key to the story of Breach Zone that I will discuss more later. As is often the case with setting, there isn’t a huge amount to say, though as someone somewhat familiar with Manhattan, it was well portrayed.

Characters: Continuing in the tradition of this series, we shift the primary viewpoint once again here, with the recurring character of Jan Thorsson, also known as Harlequin, taking center stage while previous protagonists Oscar Britton and Alan Bookbinder have their share of story space as well. (Some minor characters also have short viewpoint sections where appropriate.) It was actually really neat, seeing the world (both past and present) through Harlequin’s eyes, as throughout the story so far he has largely been an antagonist and generally a jerk. Here, however, he is thrust into the role of a hero, and you really see his evolution as a person, both from having seen him in prior books and through the flashbacks where we learn about his history with Scylla, and see how his perceptions have changed. It’s rare for a character you’ve disliked to become someone you root for.

With Bookbidner, his progression is more of a continuation of his growth from last book, while also dealing with his previously unheard of magical ability. By this time he has fully embraced the leadership role that had previously been thrust upon him, and while no longer the central character, he plays a significant role in the (near-constant) action that is Breach Zone. Similarly, Oscar Britton takes a less prominent role in this book, but still remains a major player and even though we have a good grasp on him from the previous books, even he doesn’t make it out unchanged.

The last major character who we spend time around, if not directly with, is Scylla, who after being a sort of background villain previously bursts onto the scene (and into Manhattan) as a full blown villain as she leads a magical army on an invasion of the city. However, as with the conflicts in the previous books, Cole makes things not plain black and white, as we see how Scylla became the woman that she is in this story. It’s really a tragic story, and despite strongly opposing her, the reader will most likely feel some sort of sympathy for what she’s gone through and her motives make sense, at least from her perspective.

A number of familiar supporting characters return as well, such as Sarah Downer, Swift, and Crucible, and while we don’t spend all that much time with them they all contribute to the events of the story.

Plot: To sum the plot up in very simple terms, a very angry magic user leads an army in an invasion of Manhattan. Of course, it’s far from that simple (though that is essentially how the book starts out, getting right to the invasion as Scylla’s army appears in the city through weak points in the space between Earth and the Source through a creative use of her magic.  However, there is a dual story taking place here; the first being the invasion plot, where our magic users are on the front line trying to stop the invading force and save the citizen of Manhattan. The second is the flashback plot, where we learn how Scylla came to be what she is. Regarding the latter, as mentioned above, it is a tragic story. Scylla, then still known by her birth name Grace, was the CEO of the company that developed the limbic dampener, a substance that helps magically-inclined people control their power. The catch is, Scylla is herself Latent, and overusing the drug to continually suppress her negramatic powers (she can almost instantly rot things). When this is discovered, Harlequin, who had entered into a relationship with Grace, chooses his duty to the military and turns her in (not that it is that simple), thus setting up her feelings of betrayal and hatred for the United States government and military, which strictly controls those who can use magic, to the point where they’re either forcibly drafted or put down (this theme, and Cole’s excellent concept of how our world might react to magic users suddenly appearing, is also seen in a subplot involving a gang of Selfers (magic users who chose to run from the government and live in hiding), as they find themselves (as well as Britton and his friends, who’ve been involved in that conflict since Control Point) caught between Scylla, who is ideologically with them but in an extreme, murderous sense, and the government that’s oppressed them but now is all that stands between Scylla’s army and thousands of innocent people.

While the story is centered around the action, it is very much about both the characters involved and these important concepts relating to governmental control and oversight, as well as how the military fits into it. I know I’ve put a spoiler warning at the start of this review, but I really don’t want to spoil anything about the battle itself, as it’s one of the most exciting battles I’ve read in any fantasy work (and one I’d love to see on screen one day. I can hope.) One thing I should note, however, is that while the battle is resolved by the end and this ‘trilogy’ is completed, things are still left open that I expect will be addressed in the future; the politics around latents will be changed irrevocably, and I look forward to seeing where else this world goes.

Magic: There really isn’t a whole lot for me to say in this section this time, as we’re three books into a series and the magic is well established by now. Two things I can say though is that we see some innovative uses, such as Scylla’s literal rotting of the barrier between worlds to move her army through, to a ton of the action that takes place. Just so many cool things happen, and you’re never left feeling that there were things that could’ve been done that were ignored for plot convenience. Our heroes literally throw everything they have at the invading army. I also liked the flashbacks, which took us to an earlier period where magic was still very new, and seeing the creation of the limbic dampener, which has been prominently used in the previous books, adds some nice depth to the world.

 

All in all, Breach Zone was a great read, an action packed ride that starts strong and gets even better as it goes on, while not sacrificing character and overarching themes despite its action-heavy nature. The book is awesome, go check it out!

(Again, sorry I’m writing this so long after reading it. Got 2 more delayed reviews coming, after which I will again resume writing them as soon as I can after reading something new.)

Until next time, keep on reading and writing! Stay tuned in the near future for both a couple more reviews plus something I haven’t yet done here that I think (and hope) you will enjoy. 😉

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