Review: “Control Point” by Myke Cole
All over the world people are ‘coming up latent’ – developing new and terrifying abilities. Untrained and panicked, they are summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze.
US Army Lieutenant Oscar Britton has always done his duty, even when it means working alongside the feared Supernatural Operations Corps, hunting down and taking out those with newfound magical talents. But when he manifests a rare, startling power of his own and finds himself a marked man, all bets are off.
On the run from his former colleagues, Britton is driven into an underground shadow world, where he 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.
Since my current project took a slight turn towards military sci-fi, I figured that this would make for useful reading (it also helped that Howard Taylor’s review, where I first heard about it, was so glowing). Of particular note is the fact that the author has a military background, so he writes from his own experience. However unbeknownst to him, I read this immediately after Patrick Bury’s “Callsign Hades” and Patrick Hennessey’s “The Junior Officers’ Reading Club” – both non-fiction accounts by British officers who served in Afghanistan, both excellent, moving and terrifying accounts of life in the armed services during conflict. So how would “Control Point” compare? As it turned out, very favourably indeed. It’s one thing to experience something, it’s another to be able to write about it coherently and engagingly, and the author’s portrayal of an alternate military works very well.
“Control Point” starts just as the action is about to kick off, but then instead there being a lull, maybe some exposition and some build-up, we’re propelled through more action, danger and anxiety – just like the back of the book promised. Eventually there’s a break for us to catch our breath, but by that point I was thoroughly invested both in the world and the characters – I needed to know what would happen next, and that’s about the best thing an author can do.
The characters are well-developed. Possibly the protagonist swings a little too much between serving and rebelling, but then considering what what he does and what he has done to him in a very short space of time, expecting him to always be calm, considered and rational simply isn’t realistic. Real people change their mind. Real people think something is great one day and awful the next. Real people deliberate and agonise about what the best – or least bad – thing to do is. Real people make mistakes – terrible mistakes – and still try to keep going and recover. (Hint – terrible things happen.)
The magic system is polished. Some of it I’ve seen before in one form or another, but it’s well written and more importantly, thoroughly thought through in terms of its impact not only on civilian and military life, but also on indigenous peoples. As you’d expect, this world building adds crucial depth and believability. It also has limitations, or rather, it can be limited, which has some interesting consequences in the book.
Sequels are in the works – a cause for relief and great joy.
Pacing: in several sections the action is relentless in the best possible way. Pacing is essential for any book if you want to carry the reader through all of it, but I realised after reading this that pacing isn’t just about keeping up momentum but building it up in the first place. Maybe that’s obvious, but seeing it demonstrated never hurts.
World building: the author has used the classic technique of starting each chapter with a quote, and in this case they’re from fictional U.N. reports, or interviews with soldiers with an opinion on magic, its uses or its users. Even though they’re part of the fiction, they help to flesh out the world. The point is that if you take the modern world and add a complete game-changer – magic in this case – you need to think through the implications. I think this is probably the most important part of world building, and the author has done an excellent job.
Characters: real people make mistakes, change their mind, all that stuff. We don’t want our heroes to be just like us, but a “perfectly heroic” hero just wouldn’t be believable either, and frankly wouldn’t be very interesting. No problems, no story – whether that’s within the character mind or in the outside world.