Our long national nightmare is over. Myke Cole’s next book—Javelin Rain—is out March 29. In the meantime, my review of his first book is below.
Control Point is the first book in the Shadow Ops trilogy and Myke Cole’s first book. It’s one heck of an entrance. Military fantasy + urban fantasy + superhero + near-future science fiction = awesome.
Cole owes a lot to prior sources. The X-Men influence is evident, and one character is almost straight out of the comic. The magic system, and in particular the school of portamancy, shows the influence of The Wheel of Time. But Cole has combined them to create an original idea.
The magic system is pretty straightforward and doesn’t really break any new ground. Every Latent (magic-user) manifests in a single school. These include one for each of the four elements, one for “spirit” (physiomancy, used for healing), and four prohibited schools. It’s the unfamiliar nature of magic in the world of the book, the military’s monopoly on legal magic use in the US, and the prohibited schools that make things interesting.
No dates are ever given, but Control Point appears to be set in the near future. The War on Terror is over. The European Union is now the European Caliphate, where sharia law rules. Their world was just like ours, but humans began manifesting magical abilities after centuries with no magic. This has resulted in substantial chaos in the order of things, but evidence of that chaos is largely limited to hints from conversations and short blurbs that precede each chapter and through our hero’s thoughts and actions. The combination of a single POV and the blurbs works for the setting in a meta sense. It helps the reader imagine the myopia of military life, with the public conversation just sort of skittering across the surface, distorted by looking through the military bubble.
Our hero is Oscar Britton, an Army officer who manifests in a forbidden school. The entire book is through his viewpoint. He’s obviously impressive to outsiders–he’s a large black man who becomes a powerful magic-user–but we see that he’s prone to self-doubt. He also experiences extensive angst over his role in the army and their treatment of magic-users. Inner turmoil is tough to write for authors not named Dostoevsky, but Cole pulls it off well. He also does a very good job exploring the inherent tension between liberty and the needs of the military required to protect liberty. Cole obviously respects and understands the need for each and respects the U.S. military while recognizing its warts and limitations.
It took me a little while to get into Control Point. I think a lot of that has to do with a general lack of interest in urban and military fantasy and a distaste for traditional fantasy terms like sorcerer and goblin developed from reading modern fantasy. The book definitely grew on me though, and by the explosive climax I was hooked and cursing the 98% marker on my Kindle. As I said earlier, the magic isn’t that original, but Cole uses it to incredible effect in the action sequences. And the book, especially the second half, has a lot of action.
Cole includes an extremely helpful glossary of unfamiliar terms and acronyms, both those in current military use and fictional ones such as the military would undoubtedly create in the event that magic reappeared in the world.