Book Review: “Gemini Cell” by Myke Cole

Gemini CellMyke Cole very quickly established himself on my list of “must read” authors when I read his first offering, Shadow Ops: Control Point. It took just that one book for me to know I’d want to read everything he wrote from that point forward. Soon I read the two books that followed Control Point and was waiting anxiously for Gemini Cell to be available. As it turns out, I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of the book, and then proceeded to horribly drop the ball by not getting this review written when I originally wanted.

For that, I apologize to Myke Cole, as I should have been more on top of things.

However, I am here now, and want to make it very clear that Gemini Cell is hands-down Myke Cole’s most well-written novel to date. As many other reviewers and authors alike have made sure to mention, Myke Cole is not satisfied with maintaining the status quo when it comes to his writing. Rather, he forges ahead in leaps and bounds with each successive book, carving for himself a very impressive reputation in the fledgling, but strong military fantasy playground.

Now, if you have read the Shadow Ops books previously, you are going to feel very much at home with what Myke Cole is doing in Gemini Cell. If you haven’t read those books, don’t worry, Gemini Cell puts itself forth as potentially being the best place to introduce yourself to Myke Cole as an author. The book serves as a prequel of sorts to the other Shadow Ops books by taking place many years ahead of the others at a time when individuals with magical powers were just starting to make their presence known and the government had no really good idea on how to handle the situation.

The premise of Gemini Cell is that Jim Schweitzer, a very successful and talented Special Ops soldier is sent on a mission where the team is not very well-informed as to the target. The mission quickly goes awry and Jim sees some things that he doesn’t quite understand. Soon enough, his home is invaded by a separate group of soldiers and he dies as a result. At least until the government entity known as Gemini Cell revives him from death by forcing an evil Jinn to take residence inside. Jim discovers himself in a fight for his humanity as the Jinn attempts to take control at every opportunity. Jim must learn to control the powerful urges and abilities the Jinn provides while at the same time satisfying his government handlers that he isn’t a danger to them or society. It’s a very narrow road to navigate and most of the time it seems like Jim is chasing a moving target.

Beyond all of the usual action trappings are characters who really feel like they are sincere. A lot of books in the science fiction and fantasy genres, especially those with a more military slant tend to have characters that feel like they are made with very little thought to how a real person would respond. Not so in Gemini Cell. At its core this story is about a soldier experiencing the most dramatic form of PTSD you can imagine. He was murdered in front of his wife and child, inhabited by an evil entity, and brought back to life as what can only be described as a super-powered zombie soldier. That’s enough to make any actual person take stock of their situation.

One of Myke Cole’s greatest strengths as an author is his ability to make you believe in the characters he puts on the page. Not all of his characters are good guys, but even those are ones you find yourself believing have an actual reason for what they are doing. Jim Schweitzer is Myke Cole’s greatest creation when it comes to character development and in his previous three books he had some pretty impressive characters already.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jim Schweitzer’s wife, Sarah. She does not get nearly as much screen time as Jim in the book for obvious reasons, but she is every bit as carefully written as Jim is when you start looking more deeply. She has her own things to sort out in the wake of what happens to Jim, especially since she is kept in the dark as to his true fate for a majority of the book. I’ve seen or listened to several interviews with Myke Cole about how he approached writing the female perspective for the character of Sarah and I was really impressed by the care and attention he gave her. The book on the whole was better for it and I know find myself wondering if we might get a Myke Cole book at some point with an all-female or at least female-dominant cast. I would be fascinated to see what he could do in that regard.

Gemini Cell is a much grittier, darker book than the previous books published by Myke Cole, but it needs that grit and that darker tone to make it so compelling. If you are looking for something that will take you on a journey a little bit outside what you are used to dealing with  in genre fiction, this book is a great place to start.

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Looking Back at October 2014

At the beginning of October I wrote a post regarding whether or not I would actually manage to read 100 books this year like I wanted. I mention in that post about October needing to be the “make or break” month in the process because if I didn’t reach a certain threshold it would be very difficult to reach my goal. I took that thought to heart and really, really pushed myself hard to reach 85 books completed by the end of the month.

There was a stretch of October for about 10 days where I read a book a day, which is both amazing and disorienting at the same time. Over the course of the entire month I read 16 full-length novels as well as five issues of Bastion Magazine and two novellas. I suppose I could have traded the magazine issues and novellas for another two books, but I used the shorter works as a way to cleanse my palate between novels and as a way to bring the number of unread items on my Kindle back down to a reasonable level.

All in all, I managed to make up all the lost ground from earlier in the year when I had months where I didn’t meet my quota. I am not officially back on pace with 85 books completed, leaving me with 15 remaining to be read. That puts me in a very good place as I head into the last two months of the year. I’d like to get six or seven books finished before the World of Warcraft expansion on November 13th, and then another three or four finished in the last two weeks of the month. It would be wonderful if I could arrive at December 1st with only four or five books left to read and be stress free with the goal.

Here are the books I read in October:

Here is the list of short fiction I read in October:

As you can see, that list is enormous compared to the lists from all the previous months in 2014. It did help that I chose books I was almost guaranteed to enjoy for the entire month, which meant none of them turned into a big drag that lost me time. I also focused on catching up with and/or finishing series so I don’t have so many left open-ended.

I think my favorites for the month were the Shadow Ops books by Myke Cole, and the two books by Marko Kloos: Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure. Of course, I also very much enjoyed Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie as it’s a wonderful follow-up to the first book in that trilogy. And, while I have not “caught up” with the entire series of The Dresden Files, I am now at least halfway through after finishing all the books I had purchased via a Kindle Daily Deal a few months ago.

Steampunk is a sub-genre that fascinates me, but I haven’t found the time to read. The two Romulus Buckle books were wonderfully written and very vibrant in their world building and characters. I’ve had those books sitting on my Kindle for nearly a year and decided it was high time I got them read. I’m glad I did because they were spectacular. I hear the third book is due out sometime in the first few months of 2015. I’ll be sure to grab it.

For November I have some good stuff on deck. There is the second of the new Star Wars canon being released, as well as the final book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy, both of which I’ll be reading immediately when they load onto my Kindle. There is also the second book of a series about superheroes from a self-published author I’m looking forward to diving into and then I’ll be walking back into the Dragonlance books I exposed myself to earlier this year to try and make some progress on catching up.

Book Review: “Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier” by Myke Cole

Fortress FrontierWhen I finished reading Shadow Ops: Control Point I was entirely hooked on the world Myke Cole has created for his books. I had a hard time believing that he was going to be able to top the amazing work he had done when I picked up Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier to see what happened next to my favorite military sorcerers. Well, I was wrong, because I promptly read the entirety of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier in about six hours. It seems that the idea of a military fantasy novel is right in my wheelhouse. I love these books.

Alan Bookbinder is the new viewpoint character featured in Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier to go along with a few appearances by Oscar Britton to keep the story cohesive along the way. However, the very first part of this book had me a little bit confused because Bookbinder arrives at FOB Frontier to be the new logistics whiz after coming up latent himself with a magical power nobody has any clue about and when he arrives he is introduced to Oscar Britton. I had to go back to my copy of Shadow Ops: Control Point to confirm that Britton had in fact ended the book not at FOB Frontier. After a few more chapters it became clear to me that Bookbinder’s viewpoint was jumping into the story at about the halfway point of Shadow Ops: Control Point and then running in tandem for a little while and extending the story to a new point by the time it was finished. Once I managed to get the timeline right I was fine, but a little more clarification at the beginning might be helpful to readers.

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier deals with FOB Frontier being cut off from the Home Plane as a result of Britton’s actions as he and several members of the SASS escape from the base and begin forging their own path. When Britton kills the SOC’s only Portamancer in his escape, it leaves FOB Frontier with no way of getting ammunition, food, support, or anything else from the Home Plane. They are on their own with limited resources. To top everything off, Bookbinder, who has been barely holding on to his sanity while trying to deal with the commander of the base, is suddenly thrust into command by the assassination of Commander Taylor by rogue goblins. Bookbinder has to take action and take it fast in order to prevent the base from plunging into chaos.

While Bookbinder is dealing with the survival of FOB Frontier, Britton is trying to find a safe haven for himself and the small group of sorcerers that escaped the base with him. They first try to fix the problem they created by letting Scylla out of her imprisonment, but they are beaten back rather handily and realize they don’t have the skills and/or power to deal with her on their own. Their next plan is to escape back to the Home Plane and take refuge with one of the larger Selfer groups and try to work at overturning some of the discriminatory laws against Selfers. At first it seems like their plan is going well, but then they realize the leader of the Houston Street Selfers has been replaced by an SOC agent.

Alan Bookbinder turns out to be the more compelling character for me in Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier. I still like Oscar Britton, and will continue to do so, but for all the strengths that Britton had in the first book, Bookbinder is even more well-written from characterization standpoint. Bookbinder’s unique magic leads to some very interesting choices he needs to make for the survival of his group. I liked that he has to make those choices and that he has to be careful about who he lets know about his power. At one point it even threatens to undo all of the work he’s done in helping FOB Frontier survive.

The conclusion of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier has Bookbinder, Britton, and even Harlequin coming together to do the right thing and throwing the President of the United States into some seriously hot water. The setup for the third book is amazing and I can’t imagine what Myke Cole is going to do next with the series. These books are absolutely a must read for any fan of military fiction or fantasy.

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Book Review: “Shadow Ops: Control Point” by Myke Cole

Control PointI need to make a confession. I first heard about Myke Cole as a result of Twitter because another author I follow had linked to a particularly poignant blog post Myke had recently written about something I don’t remember at the moment. That was the first exposure I had to Myke Cole and I made a mental note that he was a writer as well and maybe I should look up his books and see if I might be interested. Then, some measure of time later, I started seeing my Twitter feed flooded with “Go read Myke Cole’s new book!” So, I went and looked up his first book and bought a copy, not thinking much of it other than, “I’ll get to this at some point because I have lots of stuff on my Kindle right now.” Besides, I felt confident the book couldn’t be too bad because all of my favorite authors I followed on Twitter were hyping the hell out of this Myke Cole guy and I trusted their judgment.

Many months later I was looking through my available options on my Kindle thinking, “I’ve been reading a lot of big fantasy stuff lately, let’s change it up and find a shorter military science fiction book to read next.” I found Shadow Ops: Control Point on the list and opened it up, ready to dive into spaceships and military squads, commanders and orders, and some good old-fashioned laser beams.

Guess what, did you know that Shadow Ops: Control Point is not military science fiction?

Rather, Shadow Ops: Control Point is military fantasy and I sure found that out in a hurry.  As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know such a sub-genre even existed!

I put the book down after reading the first few chapters (which I was in love with by the way) and wondered how in the world I had managed to think this book was military science fiction. Turns out, when you just buy a book on the recommendation of your favorite authors because they’ve been all over Twitter about the thing, and you never read the cover blurb, and only see the guy in military fatigues on the cover, you can put all sorts of silly ideas into your own head.

So, if Myke Cole ever doubts the power of the Twitterverse… he shouldn’t.

Myke Cole demonstrates at least two things with Shadow Ops: Control Point. First, he has written a leading character that readers can really, really connect with in ways that I don’t see very often in a lot of science fiction and fantasy books. Second, Myke Cole’s command of pacing in a story is some of the best I’ve ever seen. There are no “good” moments to put this book down. Just when you think you’ve arrived at a good place to stop and go make dinner, the last line of the chapter will force you to turn the page and keep going. I was a very busy guy at the time I was reading Shadow Ops: Control Point and I might have let a few things at work slide a little bit because I wanted to keep reading instead of coding.

Oscar Britton has been serving as a member of the Supernatural Operations Corps, helping to track down any citizens who manifested as having magical powers. Well, he was until he manifests his own unique abilities and finds himself on the run as a result. Ultimately Oscar is thrown in with a band of misfits so-to-speak as he is trained to use his unique skills in sorcery alongside several others who have manifested in ways that are rare or dangerous. Oscar and his new squad have an uphill battle to fight as they are frowned upon by the more common air, fire, and water sorcerers in their training camp. Trials have a tendency to create strong bonds between people though, and soon enough Oscar and his squad are doing some magnificent things.

Shadow Ops: Control Point features some really expertly woven themes of loyalty, duty, honor, and sacrifice. Oscar is required to make some tough choices about who he wants to be as a person as well as who he wants to be as a leader and friend. He struggles with those choices like a real person who had been thrown into seismic changes would and that’s a big reason he is so easy to relate to as a character.

The magic system Myke Cole has envisioned for this book is grounded in a few familiar tropes of earth, water, air, and fire forces, but he mixes in a few lesson common ideas like necromancy, the ability to manifest portals (teleportation), and a few others. I really enjoyed the battles between magic users as they always seemed to play well off of each other and the characters were allowed to grow into their powers over the course of the book rather than being experts right from the beginning.

I really did have no idea that “military fantasy” was an actual sub-genre, and even though I read Shadow Ops: Control Point months ago, I still haven’t found any other true examples of that kind of writing. It seems that Myke Cole is working in a relatively new and unique writing space, which compels me to keep reading his work in the future.

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