Shadow Opts: Control Point by Myke Cole (2012, Penguin)
I’d known Myke Cole had a novel coming out for the six months in advance. Myke and I were both part of the same medieval reenactment fighting group. I’ve known him for the past fifteen years, although I don’t get to see him much these days. Myke is one of the most intense people I know: he’s got a degree in history, worked as a civilian contractor in Iraq and currently serves as an officer in the U. S. Coast Guard. Naturally, I bought the kindle edition the first day it was available.
He recently talked about the genesis of the book in a podcast interview. While working as a civilian contractor at the Pentagon, Myke started wondering what would happen if, in the myriad of departments, there was an office devoted to magical creatures. Military spec elves, werewolves, etc. Combining this with his work around the defense department, Shadow Ops was born.
The book starts off with plenty of action. Oscar Britton is serving with the New Jersey Air National Guard and is flying in to stop a group of kids from burning down a high school. They’re working with a federal counter-terrorism agency and closing in fast on the burning building. Just before they make contact, Their Special Ops commander, call sign “Harlequin”, leaps out of the chopper and soars into the sky.
Welcome to the world of the Great Reawakening.
At some point in the near future, magic has begun to manifest itself in the world. People with natural magical abilities, known as “Latents” can summon fire, control water, reanimate the dead, or heal. Most of the abilities fall into designated categories: a healer is known as a “Physiomancer” for his or her ability to repair or damage flesh. Certain classifications of offensive magic, known as “Probes” (as in Prohibited) are forbidden by Geneva conventions.
Since all Latents are considered potential dangers to society, they are rounded up and pressed into the Supernatural Operations Core (SOC) in the United States. Other countries have similar laws. Most Latents have very little understanding of their powers when they first manifest, each one is a potential time bomb. The novel makes references to buildings collapsing and acts of congress to suppress the Latents. The book never gives statistics, but the reader gets the feeling Latents make up less than %0.5 of the population.
Those Latents who don’t want to end up as state property have the choice of fleeing or joining groups of others who’ve manifested supernatural abilities. Known as “Selfers” they are outside the law and quickly vanish into secret government camps if arrested. In one sense, it’s not hard to understand the state of emergency surrounding the manifestations. What happens when a fourteen-year-old kid suddenly can send fire down on anyone who pisses him off? And what happens when a serial killer discovers she has magical powers?
Oscar Britton soon discovers that he has prohibited powers: he can bring a gateway into place. He’s a “Portamancer”, one of the prohibited magical abilities. But he doesn’t know how to control the ability and suddenly the gate snaps open, sending into our world dangerous creatures from the “Source”, or magical, plane. All of which makes him a dangerous fugitive from the law. Britton decides to run, but, like the song says, he doesn’t get far.
Britton finds himself thrown into a training coven of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice program in the US Army. He’s given the choice of signing up or execution. Naturally, he chooses to sign. But the government has another way of keeping him in line: an explosive implant next to his heart. If Britton runs or gates out, they will detonate it. The training camp where he finds himself is on the Source world where the army has established a Forward Operating Base (FOB). Many of the local inhabitants, small green-skinned creatures known as goblins, have declared war on the base and are constantly bombarding it with magical weapons at every chance. Others work inside the base with the humans.
It’s a little to easy to compare this novel with current events. And I do see lot of similarities between the Jihadis in Afghanistan or Iraq. But this is a fantasy novel first and foremost. Myke does tackle a lot of moral issues in Shadow Ops: what is the right thing to do if your government is taking immoral actions to stop evil? How do you keep society intact without become a sadistic monster? The military doesn’t come off in the best light in this novel: Britton’s training warrant office, Fitzsimmons is portrayed as a brute.
At the same time, the Selfers aren’t shown to be better. The Apache nation rises up in revolt against the US government with the help of magic. The rebels have no hesitation of massacring anyone who opposes them. There’s a gripping scene in a New York Sewer where the SOC conscripts and the local SWAT team battles a protoplasmic Selfer monstrosity.
The novel ends with a lot of the issues unresolved. We never really do find out why the military has established a fire base on the Source world. Nor do we find out why some of the Goblins cooperate with the human military. I suspect more will be revealed in the next book since it’s been marketed as a series. Still, I’m old-fashioned enough to want my books concluded by the final page.
This is an excellent first novel by a new writer. Don’t go into this book expecting Starship Troopers with wizards. But it is a compelling read.