I am not a professional book reviewer nor do I play one on TV. I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Some people think I cannot be trusted with sharp implements. Your mileage may vary. Void where prohibited by law. Do not operate heavy machinery while consuming this product. May cause leaky bowels.
I just finished this book and I really liked it. It's pure military SF with a bit of sword and sorcery thrown in for fun. The author is Myke Cole and it's best to start there. First, here's a link to his website. Myke is a relatively new novelist (though he has written short stories and non-fiction dealing with a very wide variety of subject matter). Shadow Ops: Control Point is the first in a series of current/near future military science fiction novels. A quick gander at Myke's biography reveals a man with a deep background in the subject matter, including 3 Iraq tours, something that I think is key to this book.
I'm going to be as vague on specifics from this book as I can lest I become the Spoiler Alert Troll and I absolutely do not want to do that. Still, there will be some divulging here, it just can't be helped. Sorry in advance. I have a reason for trying to be as vague as possible. I want you to experience the book as I did. Not quite prepared.
Born in the late 50s, I was raised in the 60s and 70s with the popular SF writers of the day. My primary go to authors were the usual cast, Heinlein (PBUH), Bradbury, Tolkein, Azimov, De Camp, Howard and the like. I later moved on to Ringo, Kratman, Weber, et al. Throw in Clancy, Dale Brown and the other military fiction authors and you can readily identify my tastes. In those books the heroes did exactly as one would expect and the bad guys were readily identifiable and predictable. Everyone fitted neatly into their assigned slots and the story went forward comfortably amd amicably. Not so here.
This is my first foray into a book written by the current generation of war fighter, a veteran of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are undoubtedly more but this is my first and I was struck by the starkly different feel between Myke and those who were influenced by WWII, Vietnam and especially the Cold War. There is a lot of gray and much less black and white in the individual characters actions even while the story is uniformly one on the differences between good and evil and the triumph of freedom over coercion and slavery. Let me give an example.
In the first few pages I quickly identified the hero and the villain (Turns out I was partially wrong. There are plenty of both and none of the above as it were but I digress). I decided I liked the one and hated the other. Expected parameters and easily identified actions resulting from the character's situation. But wait. Within the first couple of chapters things began to morph a little and I found myself bashing the hero and asking him "WTF!? Why in the hell did you just do that?!" and kinda understanding and maybe even sympathizing with the villain. "Dude's just doing his job you know?" The whole book is like that. Myke's characters are rich and all too frailly human. As I said, there's a lot of gray here and Myke is unafraid to let his characters make major blunders and some of them are real lulus. Don't get me wrong here; there are clear protagonists and antagonists and ne'er the twain shall meet but their individual journeys and the choices they make along the way are the meat and gravy of this book. I found it fascinating and refreshing.
In this book you will find alternate dimensions, worlds, beasts, monsters, indegenes, FOBs, military hardware, rebels, outcasts and magic all operating under the auspices of, or in direct conflict with, the U. S. government and most especially the Army and it's subsidiary contractors. There are epic malfunctions and heroic actions but not always what's expected nor by the folks you might assume.
Wait, did I fail to mention the magic? Well, since it is on the book jacket I guess I can clarify a bit without giving anything away. It is kinda central after all.
Like Correia's Hard Magic, the world has suddenly come under the influence of magic and folks who can practice it. The government is trying hard to control the magic by, let's just say constitutionally irregular means. The similarities pretty much end there. Where Hard Magic is set in a noirish alternate 1930s, Shadow Ops is set firmly in the present or very near future. Shadow Ops spends it's time in mostly Army settings with Soldiers and Sorcerers, the Army's Supernatural Operations Corps (SOC). There are two branches of magic; authorized and prohibited. One is "allowed" to serve (and I do mean serve) in the Army, the other is hunted down and...well that may be giving too much away. Let's just say it's a fascinating take on Parole and leave it at that. It's also a fascinating take on the sins of incrementalism and the slow erosion of rights, especially for those who are deemed dangerous and anti-social.
The story ends in a place very different from it's beginning. Along the way the protagonist manages to swing between self service (that's a hint right there) and patriotism with a stop or two at despair and reality in between. The antagonists, and there are several, also exhibit complex emotions, motivations and behaviors. Even the baddest of the bad (and that's pretty dang bad). There are love interests, betrayals, fighting, death (including some pretty cold blooded murder), gunfights, hardware, a war front the folks back home decidedly do not know about, lots of magic and an entirely new branch of the Army. I mentioned an indigenous people. They play a pretty central role, one in particular (am I giving things away? Crap!) and while not they are not extensively explored I get the idea that there's a lot more to come from them in future books.
The thing that reached out and grabbed me and kept me coming back for more is something I mentioned near the top of this post. The take on conflict exhibited by an Iraq War veteran. Myke is not cut from the same cloth as the usual suspects. He has a truly unique viewpoint and manages to put that down on paper in a way that had me uncertain what to expect next. He has created a fairly dark world full of expedience, intimidation and fear (but also beauty and hope) and filled it with complex and unpredictable characters who nonetheless strive for the same things soldiers the world over have always pursued; Duty, Honor and Country, or at least as close as they can come given the particularities of the governing system they must operate within and their ability to see where their duty to those principals lies. What price redemption? For this Cold Warrior it was eye opening.
Here's my bottom line. Based on my tastes I should have hated this book but instead I loved it and I can't wait for more. It was thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable and I highly recommend it. The fact that Myke is also a Warrior as well as a pretty decent sort and who has earned his stripes is just icing on the cake.
Here's the FTC weasel words. While Myke and I did exchange challenge coins we did it as brothers in arms, not collaborators. Neither he nor I recieved any financial incentive for this review nor did he solicit it or influence me in any way, matter or form. Capiche?