Sometimes by branching out and trying books that are a little outside my normal reading zone I come across books or authors that I really love. I think part of my problem with Shadow Ops: Control Point is that I didn’t go into this book expecting it to be outside my normal reading zone. This may be my own fault, I saw descriptions that used the terms superhero and military and I somehow got the impression it would be a little more of a scifi novel. So let’s just put all that to bed right now, this is a Fantasy novel, with a strong modern-day military warfare angle.
The book takes place in as close to present day Earth as to not be noticeable to the reader what the difference might be – other than the existence/emergence of humans with super powers. It’s got an X-Men vibe, as random people manifest these powers and then choose to either turn themselves over to the government for training, or try to run – which really only results in them being hunted down. The reader is thrown right into the action as a military team led by Oscar Britton is sent to bring down a Selfer (someone who runs from the law), with the help of a specialist who can manipulate air. In these cases it’s the military’s job to kill the runners, putting Britton in a position he hates when the Selfer turns out to be a 15 year old girl.
After her death, Britton begins questioning his orders and the law, but things take a distinctly different turn as he winds up manifesting powers of his own. Despite knowing what it’ll mean, he decides to run - until he gets captured by the same people he used to work for and finds out that they actually do try to rehabilitate the Selfers and train them to fight on the front-lines in a war against creatures on the world where all this magic is coming from in the first place. Even as he forms a bond with his new team of magic users and learns how to control his portal powers, allowing him to jump to anyplace he can envision, or use them as weapons to sever others body parts, Britton will wind up questioning everything he’s ever known. How can he fight on the side of people who essentially hold all magic users in slavery, and why should he when they are coercing him with a bomb implanted in his chest to ensure his compliance with their orders.
So it’s almost urban fantasy, what with the twist on our own reality, but really I was left feeling like it was strongly rooted in the Fantasy genre with the twist being the overlay of the modern military. There are goblins and other fantasy type creatures, and when you get right down to it these super powers are no more than magic users with different proficiencies. The two strongest angles to this story are the significant military structure that the whole story operates under, and the slavery issue. The slavery idea is one that the X-Men has long flirted with, but never quite to the extent that this book goes to. These laws have already been in place sometime in the United States, there are some pockets of resistance, but mostly the morality of what’s being forced upon these magic users is hidden from everyday people, and only when they are a part of the machine do they start to realize how little control over their own lives they have anymore.
But the military angle also helps restore that sense of family, adding in layers of training and regimen, all of which draws in these broken characters who have lost everything they ever knew – who can never return to the lives they once had (due to the law) and can now find hope in using their new powers to help people, making lives better. It should go without saying that the author, due to his military background, presents these elements of the story in what I’d imagine is a fairly accurate light. I’d even argue that sometimes the military stuff is used to a fault – I’m actually pretty good with most of these acronyms, but even I couldn’t always keep track (and I didn’t realize there was a glossary at the end of the book until I was done reading). Maybe that belonged up front. I also felt like a lot of the protocol just dragged things out, when Britton needed to get fitted with weapons and armor to enter the magic “other world” going through multiple checkpoints, only to undo the whole process on the other side. It was too much information for me, and not nearly enough of it was important, meanwhile there are lots of open questions about this other world that never get answered. I’m sure that those things are coming in some later book, but the problem with waiting to give that information is some readers may not come back.
I had problems with the main character, Oscar Britton as well, to the point where I just couldn’t figure him out. What exactly is his motivation? He’s supposed to be a military guy, but the first thing he does when manifesting is run – and then kills someone (by mistake). I guess I’m supposed to think that having these powers thrust upon someone is bound to make them scared, but instead I kept thinking – why is he doing this, he should just be responsible and turn himself in. He continues to resist capture, and then when it’s finally forced upon him and he finds out the military doesn’t do all these horrible things – he still wants out. Again, I get the slavery issue, but even with the bomb in his chest from Britton’s standpoint there’s only one solution to him getting it out – he has to get someone to take it out of him illegally. He never once considers the fact that after all the other lies he’s been told that perhaps they’re lying when they say to him he’ll never earn the right to be trusted (and therefore have the bomb removed). He’s so focused on only his own fate he thinks nothing about the effects his actions will have on others, going so far as to free a mass murderer in order to escape his own fate – and then regretting it afterwards.
So I found it hard to relate to the main character, in a setting that was far more fantasy than was to my own liking, with an intriguing premise but ultimately never really captured my attention. There have been many rave reviews of Shadow Ops: Control Point, and I’m sure it’s a refreshing breath of air to straight-up Fantasy novels, but I’m not a big reader of that genre and the things I hoped I’d really dig didn’t work all that well for me.