Tuesday, January 03, 2012

“Control Point” by Myke Cole (AceRoc)


Guns ‘n’ Sorcery is born…

Army Officer. Fugi­tive. Sorcerer.

Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with mag­ical tal­ents. Untrained and pan­icked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set every­thing they touch ablaze.

Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieu­tenant attached to the military’s Super­nat­ural Oper­a­tions Corps, his mis­sion is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly man­i­fests a rare and pro­hib­ited mag­ical power, trans­forming him overnight from gov­ern­ment agent to public enemy number one.

The SOC knows how to handle this kind of sit­u­a­tion: hunt him down – and take him out. Driven into an underground shadow world, Britton is about to learn that magic has changed all the rules he’s ever known, and that his life isn’t the only thing he’s fighting for.

There are occasions when you hear of a novel long before you get the chance to read it. Based on interviews with the author, endorsements from other authors, any synopsis you might read, your expectation builds. Then, when you finally have the book in your hands, you start reading it and it just blows your expectations out of the water. Those are rare books that come along maybe once or twice a year, if you’re lucky, and rarely from debut authors. Whatever the cause, the book will just work for you on every level – plot, pacing, prose, and characters. For me, Control Point is one of those books. It sees the beginning of something new and awesome: guns ‘n’ sorcery. Blending military fiction with Urban Fantasy, this novel was an absolute blast to read – action-packed, tightly written and plotted, intense and utterly gripping. I loved this.

When Britton discovers his new power, he thinks he’s doomed to a speedy death at the hands of his comrades or a lifetime on the run. Then, he is introduced to a part of the military he never knew existed, one that is hidden from the American population and the world at large in the parallel realm, the Source. Introduced to a new organisation populated with interesting and diverse characters, he must navigate this new reality and its myriad social and political strata in order to make a new place for himself. He is not the only one with prohibited powers, and when he is attached to Shadow Coven, he must learn to use his abilities for the greater good.

Myke Cole served in the military, so it should come as no surprise that the military elements of the novel are extremely well-written. Everything from the training regime, the jargon, the dynamic between different groups in the military, to the feel of the action and battle scenes – it’s all brilliantly written and Cole has done a great job of making it accessible. There are many great snippets of banter and dialogue throughout the novel, giving everything a very authentic and natural feel. I particularly liked drill sergeant Fitzy’s explanation of his goal, to ensure new recruits “are properly trained to put warheads on foreheads when called to do so.”

The magical part of this world is pretty interesting, with a lot of elements involved, but at the same time accessible – we’re thrown in immediately with a brutal, fast-paced raid on a school being terrorised by two “selfers” (unregistered and untrained magic users). Some of the terminology is easily figured out, but Cole keeps us in the dark about some terms, in order to not ruin the momentum of the start. What he does with the various magics is also great – some of the types are utilised in ways I never would have expected. Britton’s Portomancy, his ability to open portals between our world and the Source, which I originally thought wasn’t the coolest (apparently, I like flashy powers…), quickly becomes awesome as he learns the various different ways he can use it to his advantage.

It was nice that the characters need training to use their powers, and that Britton causes a fair amount of damage when his power manifests and he’s on his own for a bit. This may sound like a strange thing to pick up on, but all too often in fantasy a character will manifest abilities and in very short order become a master. The Dampener, a drug that helps to control magic users’ emotions (and therefore their powers), could have come across as an oh-so-convenient deus ex machina, but it forms the core of a new complaint of Oscar’s, based on a governmental/military need to control things – “so obsessed with controlling magic that they failed to do real good with it”.

Britton chafes against the training, his situation, and pretty much everything about his new life – unsurprising, really, given the rumours, the way he got there, and so forth. But, he comes to accept it, and to see the good that could be done. It’s a blend of hoo-rah pride and satisfaction at the job, and being part of a unit who care for each other as well as work well together, but also disappointment at how the Probes are treated by their handlers and trainers. They remain possessors of prohibited gifts, legally condemned to death. The only lives they can have are in service to the Shadow Ops Division and the covert base in the Source. Cole offers a deft examination of the pros and cons of military life.

Control Point taps into themes of prejudice towards the “other”, and also the damaging effects of excessive governmental control. There’s a strained dynamic between the various ’mancers and “ordinary” army personnel. Anyone with powers is viewed with caution and suspicion, but those with the prohibited powers are shunned even more. Perhaps most important of all, is the family aspect of the Shadow Coven and others they meet at the base – they share insecurities and outsider status. As they spend more time together, their bond grows along with their skills. The characters are all well-drawn and complex, and we really start to feel for all of Britton’s colleagues. Early on, we get a glimpse of Britton’s family life, and it becomes clearer why he was maybe attracted to the army – for the sense of belonging that he didn’t experience at home.

This is tight, very streamlined writing. Cole avoids info-dumps, filtering information through action and dialogue, and using his chapter epigraphs to fill in some blanks. The epigraphs add a good deal more colour and depth to Cole’s world. The novel has a superb, relentless pace, but doesn’t feel remotely rushed. I couldn’t put this down, and ended up reading well into the night on a couple of occasions. Cole’s writing is brilliant. The dialogue is realistic. His characters are all three-dimensional and nuanced. The action is intense. Everything from the new world this is set in – the various magics and how they work, the relationships and interactions between characters, and so much more – is brilliantly evoked on the page.

The first time we see Britton use his talents in combat after he’s had training... Damn, but it was awesome – intense, on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrilling (and devious as hell). All of the action and combat in the novel is superb, and better than any I’ve read before – yes, even Dan Abnett’s. There are frequent surprises, too, which kept me on my toes. There’s a great pay-off at the end, leaving things open for the sequel (Fortress Frontier).

It’s always difficult to review novels you really like. There’s the need to provide objectivity and balance, when all you want to do is type (in very big letters), “Buy this damned book: it’s awesome!” Control Point won’t be for everyone, but even if it doesn’t sound like your cup-of-tea, I urge you to give it a chance – I had such a blast reading it, and I think you will too. A novel not to be missed if you like magic, Urban Fantasy, action, and military fiction. There’s a lot on offer here, and it should appeal to a great swathe of genre fans.

Very highly recommended. I loved this.

Also on CR: Interview with Myke Cole, “Influences & Inspirations” Guest Post


  1. Good to hear - I've been looking forward to this for about a month now. Glad to hear it's worth the wait!

  2. GURPS Technomancer is the vibe I get from this review.

  3. I've been looking forward to this one. Also had Wiebe read your review and he said it sounded awesome as well.So hopefully, I'll get to order it soon!

  4. I'll have to take a look at it. Really good job on the review.