Wednesday, 2 May 2012

‘Shadow Ops: Control Point’ – Myke Cole (Ace)

Just recently it’s been very difficult (pretty much impossible in fact) to frequent the blogs, that I regularly frequent, without coming across mention of ‘Shadow Ops: Control Point’ and just how great it is. Seriously… Check out reviews Here, Here and Here; those are just three reviews that sprang to mind, there are more out there.
With buzz like that going around it was inevitable that I would eventually find myself in Forbidden Planet buying a copy (along with some of those really cute little Lego figures but that’s another story…) I’m an absolute sucker for a little bit of well placed hype and I’m sure I’m not the only one who regularly falls foul of this ;o) It’s fine when it works out but not so fine when you’re all geared up to read something amazing and you come crashing back down to Earth with a read that, erm… isn’t. Luckily for me then I get to elude that sense of crushing disappointment for another day. ‘Shadow Ops: Control Point’ isn’t a perfect read but it still sits very comfortably in the ‘Amazing’ category and more than deserves all the nice things that people are saying about it.

Across the world, people are suddenly waking up with the ability to channel magical energy in a number of deadly ways. Faced with people able to set things ablaze, create storms and even summon the dead, American homeland security takes on a whole new meaning and that’s where Lieutenant Oscar Britton comes in. As part of the Supernatural Operations Corps, Britton’s job is to take down untrained and panicking ‘Latents’ before they can do too much damage. The questions that Britton already has about his job become a lot more searching when he suddenly manifests a strictly prohibited and potentially very deadly power. Now Britton is on the run and about to find out what really happens to the ‘Latents’ rounded up by the military. As a ‘Latent’ himself, will Oscar be able to live with what he is forced to do…?

If you read reviews online, you are guaranteed to come across reviews where the person deliberately missed a stop on the tube (or whatever) so they could read a few pages more. Looking back through the blog I’ve done that a couple of times myself :o) ‘Shadow Ops’ is very much that kind of book although, this time round, I found myself so into the book that I actually got off the tube a stop early and ended up with a slightly longer walk than normal…
It goes without saying then that ‘Shadow Ops’ is a book that’s very easy to get into and well nigh impossible to put down.

‘Shadow Ops’ is ‘Harry Potter’ with a bomb in the boy wizard’s chest that’s set to go off if he disobeys Professor Snape one more time. ‘Shadow Ops’ is ‘Harry Potter’ with magic lessons taught under armed guard to produce wizards that will conquer the world of magic for the Muggles. I guess what I’m saying is that you should take any such comparisons with a pinch of salt. Any book where someone learns about magic will have the ‘Potter’ tag applied to it but ‘Shadow Ops’ is a different beast entirely with Cole taking the magic theme and running with it in a totally different direction.

‘Shadow Ops’ is quite an in-depth examination of the morality of warfare that’s wrapped in a dazzling (sometimes horrifying) display of magic overwhelming America’s enemies. Those scenes alone are worth the price of entry with Cole displaying a keen eye for how seemingly one dimensional magic powers can be utilised in a number of surprising ways. This makes for gripping sequences where you may know the outcome of a fight but you’ll have no idea about how that outcome arrives. It’s all fast moving stuff, even the training sequences that kept me on the edge of my seat waiting to see how it all panned out (usually with lots of bruises or broken bones at the very least). Cole’s military background has enabled him not only to set Britton’s magical training against a detailed, and plausible, military structure but also to wed this structure seamlessly with the real life American military structure. It’s all very detailed stuff and you feel like you’re right in the middle of something that actually works.

Where ‘Shadow Ops’ really shone for me though was when Cole took a step back from all the pyrotechnic stuff and had Britton examine the consequences of his actions. Uncontrolled magic being what it is here (deadly at the very least) both the reader and Oscar are left in no doubt as to these consequences. Without going into too much detail (you really need to experience certain moments yourself) early chapters give Oscar a lot to chew over and later chapters have him questioning whether the alternative is any better. It’s an internal conflict between Oscar Britton ‘the soldier’ and Oscar Britton ‘the latent’. By making all the options unpalatable, Cole throws Oscar right in the middle of two extremes and makes him choose what may or may not be the lesser of two evils. This approach makes for an explosive finale and has set things up for some interesting developments in the sequel. What I’d question though is how well Cole handled Britton’s internal conflict…

It doesn’t take a lot to change Britton’s mind about his predicament, whether he’s better staying where he is or if he should be looking to do something drastic to change things. Britton bounces so madly between the two extremes that he crosses a line as far as I’m concerned. Britton’s indecision touches a nerve to begin with but, by the end, he has become a vehicle for Cole’s exploration of a theme rather than a character in his own right. Cole is perhaps talking a little too strongly through his character here… It’s not a huge deal but it did grate at times when I just wanted to be enjoying the story.

‘Shadow Ops: Control Point’ has it’s niggles then but still made for some awesome reading in the meantime; a book that is so in your face that real life somehow feels a little drab and colourless when you put the book down. Give it a go and thank me later.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

6 comments:

Elfy said...

I really liked this one. I thought it was a very solid debut. It had some problems with some of the characterisation at times, but overall it was a really fun read and the pages did fly by.

Bob Milne said...

I may need to give this another chance. It seems to be getting nothing but praise, but I gave up about 1/3 of the way through. The concept was great, but I had absolutely no interest in the main character . . . just alternately bored/annoyed me.

FantasyBytes said...

Wow, sold! I shall add it to my add-to-basket pile :)

Jim Haley said...

The wildly inconsistent characterization and inability for the main character to make a decision (other than to be a vehicle for other characters positions, as he quickly and immediately changes his mind and jumps from position to position) were deal breakers for me. I didn't love the setting to begin with (important to remember this is a Fantasy novel, not scifi) though I found it somewhat intriguing, but the main character didn't engage with me at all.

Bryce L. said...

Great review, I really enjoyed this one and looking forward to more.

Vins said...

A great book in terms of the setting and action scenes. But the main character was one of the most frustrating ones I've ever encountered (I wanted to strangle him most of the book). I hope he will get a bit of a psychological makeover in the next book...