Control Point by Myke Cole

Ace, 400 pages    
February 2011
Mass Market Paperback, 9781937007249                               
Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) provided by Author/Publisher


Oscar Britton is part of a military unit responsible for rounding up ‘Selfers,’ those people who suddenly manifest magical abilities and run amok.  In, Shadow OPS: Control Point, Myke Cole’s near future saga blends Urban Fantasy and Military Science Fiction, two branches of Speculative Fiction that don’t come together often.  The Great Reawakening has taken place, magic is real as are the creatures out of fantasy and myth like goblins and Rocs. The military has permitted (and controls) schools of Elemental magic dealing with wind, fire, water, and earth control. Other ‘schools’ such as reanimating the dead and opening up portals for quick travel, are forbidden. Oscar manifests sorcerous powers in the forbidden school of magic – Portomancy, the ability to open portals allowing for instant transportation to any location. Due to the laws in place, he must immediately turn himself into the authorities. As an officer in the military responsible for bringing in those who manifest out of the public, Oscar has seen what happens to Latents, people such as himself, so he flees and becomes a fugitive.  What drives home the fact that Latents such as himself are treated like dangerous criminals is the opening scene of the novel – Oscar and his military team, step into a dangerous scene where two young people have manifested and are causing havoc at a school, killing people, and harming the officers tasked with quelling the situation. Oscar must decide if it is better to turn himself in and eventually cooperate or if he should buck the system and forge his own path.

Eventually, Britton becomes a military contractor and trains in both armed combat and with his magic.  Though he’s officially no longer military personnel, Oscar still undergoes strenuous training, while learning more about the ‘forbidden schools’ and comes to bond with the other ‘Selfers’ rounded up by the military.  One of the members of Oscar’s shadow coven is the young girl he helped to capture in the opening scene just before his own powers manifested. This further complicates Oscar’s conflicted feelings about his own situation.

Superficially, Shadow OPS: Control Point may seem like just another military science fiction novel, with some of new ingredients. Cole is a better writer and storyteller than that; sure he mixes Urban Fantasy elements into the equation, but deeper themes are woven into the narrative. One of those, and perhaps it is punctuated by Oscar’s black skin color (which is mentioned in passing about 1/3 into the narrative), is the notion that people who manifest in ‘forbidden schools’ and latent people are treated as slaves to the military and government; tools of those in power and not really people at all.  Oscar’s internal conflict about this issues stems for a lot of things – for starters, he’s the thing he once hunted. Another is that his whole life was the military and now that’s gone, he isn’t sure what kind of life he can have.

Told in a third person perspective, Cole still conveys the stress and conflict Britton experiences both physically and mentally in a supremely believable fashion. At times I found myself sympathizing with Oscar’s plight, other times, I wanted to whack him upside the head and shout “Just go with it!”  It proved frustrating at times, but I’d almost say in a car-wreck kind of way because I wanted to see if Oscar would actually do what he’s told or continue to rebel.  I don’t know if this is what Cole intended, but also found myself siding with characters that were likely set out as antagonists – specifically legally empowered magic practitioner Harlequin who was once part of Oscar’s team and then attempted to secure Oscar once he manifested. By novel’s end, the path on which Cole was placing Oscar became more evident and some of his actions that felt a bit frustrating came to a head in a way that made sense for the next steps on his journey.

Though I enjoyed the novel a great deal, I felt some bumps along the narrative.  Some scenes felt missing, little bridges between the action or the character’s confrontational dialogue seemed as if they were removed for reasons I can’t fathom.  It made for a bit of a bumpy road and re-reading of a few passages.  On the whole; however, Control Point is a mostly tight novel that was much more thought-provoking and rewarding than I could have imagined.  I keep questioning Britton’s actions, I sympathize with his emotions and I can’t come to a fully formed response of what I think his correct course of action would have been (or rather, what my course of action would have been) – rebel or go along with the system.  In the end, the resolution to Control Point felt right for what Oscar wants to accomplish and the story Myke Cole has only begun to tell.

Control Point – the first Shadow OPS novel – is a success with some chinks in the armor that should find a wide audience.  A solid and entertaining novel: a really kick-ass premise/milieu and potential for many stories to be told; characters who – especially because it isn’t easy to agree with them – come across as believable; thematic elements that provoked ample thought and consideration during and after reading the book; and a narrative magnetism that kept me very close to the book and reading.  Cole has launched a solid series that I hope to continue reading, and he’s written a novel that starts the year off very strongly.

– High Recommendation –

© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

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