There’s nothing wrong with a book that slots nicely into an established genre—sometimes readers just want to know what they’re going to get, right?—but there’s something special about a book that does things a little different.
For the past few years, Myke Cole has been doing just that with his Shadow Ops novels—five books that aren’t quite fantasy, aren’t quite military science fiction, but are also equal parts of both. Cole’s one of a small number of writers who have managed to create a military fantasy universe that operates with the same sense of verisimilitude we’ve come to prize in military SF. This might be thanks to Cole’s own extensive real-life military background, which allows him to bring a wealth of personal experience to his characters, action, and dialogue—but it also has a lot to do with the sheer great writing.
Siege Line is the third part of the Shadow Ops: Gemini Cell trilogy and the sixth, perhaps final, part of the overarching Shadow Ops saga. It’s a book you can pick up easily, even if you’re new to the world, but you’re going to want to go back and read the rest anyway. They’re that good: sharp, fast-paced military fantasy, as only Myke Cole could have written them.
In Cole’s first series, the Shadow Ops trilogy, the government and military are deep into a struggle to contain and control the sudden reappearance of magic in the world (known as the Great Awakening). The brilliance of that concept can’t be overstated—Cole drew on his own experience with the military and the Pentagon in imagining how the army would respond to the sudden appearance of magic; he promptly concluded: not very well.
The Gemini Cell series is a prequel, taking us back in time to the earliest days of magic’s return. In the first two books, Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer is killed and resurrected by a secret government agency, his soul combined with a Jinn by a necromancer. Most humans can’t overcome the influence of the Jinn sharing their undead bodies, and go “Gold,” devolving into ravaging, impossible to control monsters. Schweitzer goes “Silver,” meaning he maintains control over his magically augmented body. Far from an awesome hero trip for the soldier, this is a tragedy; his new power costs him his humanity and his family, and turns him into a tool to be used by those above him in the chain of command. If that’s not a potent metaphor for the price paid by members of the modern military, I don’t know what it.
Military SF likes to augment its characters with technology—implants, exoskeletons, or huge badass weapons. But as Clarke’s law (which Cole cheekily name-checked) states, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and its one of the elements that makes this series work so well. Siege Line kicks off with Schweitzer—who, in his magically enhanced, undead body has a plethora of supernatural abilities—already in full rampage mode. He’s kidnapped Senator Hodges, once an “operator” with the CIA and now part of the Deep State. Once Schweitzer convinces him Gemini Cell has gone rogue (the agency’s director is the only other “Silver” equal to Schweitzer in strength and abilities) and is creating a small unit of savage, demonic “Golds,” Hodges brings the force of the government’s black ops capabilities to bear—but it’s not enough. The director escapes into the Northwest territories in Canada, where rumors swirl of a necromancer, capable of creating more of the undead, possessed soldiers.
Here’s where the book becomes something special: it would be perfectly acceptable for the book to follow Schweitzer and company as they desperately race to find the director, leading to an apocalyptic showdown—but Cole has always infused his military fantasy with military reality. When the shock and awe of war comes to an area, there are very often people already there who have to deal with the consequences.
So Cole cuts to the titular siege in Fort Resolution, Canada, a frozen tundra of a hamlet where the local sheriff, Wilma “Mankiller” Plante, and her under-prepared department suddenly have the Gemini Cell in their midst. The necromancer the director seeks happens to be Wilma’s beloved grandfather. With the, the players are set. And the resultant showdown truly is apocalyptic.
More to Come
Though this is the last book in the Gemini Cell series, it leaves a few questions hanging unanswered, leaving open the possibility for plenty more novels in this unique world. Here’s hoping Cole writes them (maybe after he finishes his upcoming epic fantasy series).