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Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole
Cover Artist: Michael Komarck
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781937007249
Date: 31 January 2012 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Lt. Oscar Britton is a young Army officer whose job is backing up the Supernatural Operations Corps (SOC)--the magically gifted who take down magical rogues known as selfers. He never questioned his loyalties until the day he has to help take down two kids...and then manifests a strange, terrible power himself. And chooses to run.

That's the kickoff to Shadow Ops: Control Point, the start of a new military/urban fantasy series by Myke Cole. Britton's qualms take on a much more personal intensity when his own magic appears--and quickly exceeds his control. Although federal law is that he must turn himself in, his kind of magic (the opening of teleportational gates) is a proscribed school: he fears (with good reason) that he'll be executed immediately.

Using his erratic and unreliable magic, he tries to seek help from his parents and an old friend. Both attempts fail miserably, leaving him bereft and more anxious than ever. A halting effort to turn himself in collapses and he ends up taken down by the very SOC team he helped earlier--a bit of irony he doesn't fail to appreciate.

Instead of being summarily executed, however, he learns that his talent is exceptionally rare; the federal government has no intention of throwing away the enormous military advantage he represents. He's taken to Source, the world believed to be the origin point of Earth's reborn magic, where he'll be trained to control his power or die trying.

He's inducted into Coven Four, which holds three other "prohibited" and untrained magicians: Truelove the Necromancer, Richards the Whisperer (able to communicate with animals), and Downer the Elementalist (able to turn any of the four elements into a self-propelled golem). They don't mesh initially, but Britton bonds with them and with Marty, a Goblin (what the Army calls the natives) who works in the hospital and has great status in his tribe. His foremost nemesis is Chief Warrant Officer Fitzsimmons (aka Fitzy), who takes unholy delight in beating the rebellion out of Britton, but he also isn't friends with the No-No Crew of reprobates who are being trained--against their will--in hopes they'll choose to join the SOC.

Though initially hostile, Britton begins to come around when he sees how his gift can help. (And it doesn't hurt that he befriends Therese, a beautiful young woman who's also training in Source.) His commitment is put to the test, however, when a reconnaissance mission goes awry and he might be able to escape the SOC--but can he turn his back on country and mission? And will he be able to save his comrades when surrounded by enemy forces in dangerous territory?

Cole pulls off an intense, well-crafted tale in Shadow Ops, nicely blending tropes that don't seem to fit well together; in this story, the combination of magic and military tech/training is very well handled. Britton is perhaps a bit naive, especially given that he's been in the Army for awhile (and has an estranged Marine father on top of it), but his learning curve and growth as a character is also well-handled. If he irritates many around him, he makes up for it as the story progresses.

The other characters are recognizable archetypes of the military prison tale, mostly, but Cole invests them with depth and dignity--even sneering, preening Swift, the rebel leader of the No-No Crew, is understandable and, to a point, sympathetic. The way the military treats the native Goblins does not escape Britton's critical point of view, nor does the way the Army intends to make soldiers (and killers) out of teenagers. There is a LOT wrong with the world (though much of it, like Native American uprisings and the total Islamicization of Europe, are offscreen), but Britton's focus is on what's around him... and that gives him plenty of fuel for his anger.

The series is off to a very strong start and I look forward to seeing Cole spin further tales in this highly unusual and engaging setting.

Recommended.

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