BREACH ZONE by Myke Cole — a Review

Myke Cole (Blog, Twitter) wraps up his Shadow Ops trilogy with the release of BREACH ZONE, and he does so in a spectacular fashion, with action sequences that will make Hollywood producers drool and characters whose growth becomes more impressive with each installment.

WARNING: THIS REVIEW ASSUMES YOU HAVE READ CONTROL POINT AND FORTRESS FRONTIER. IF NOT, YOU’RE ABOUT TO COME ACROSS SOME SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

BREACH ZONE is primarily the story of Jan “Harlequin” Thorsson who, in the aftermath of the battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier, finds himself adjusting to public celebrity and private scorn. The man who has been something of a poster boy for the military’s system and all its rules in the previous two books must find a way to deal with now being literally in that position. That adjustment becomes incredibly more difficult when Scylla launches a war against that system, if not all of humanity.

When Scylla and her army of goblins and Gahe destroy a good portion of Manhattan, Harlequin works to rally the Supernatural Operations Corps to take back New York and defeat Scylla, a woman he has as past with. But who will answer his call? Alan Bookbinder, Oscar Britton, and the many magical (“Latent”) characters we’ve met in books one and two must pick the future they want and then fight for it. With they stand with the U.S. Government, with Scylla, or for some other system?

And that, to me, is really what the Shadow Ops books are about: systems and their effect on people. How can rules, categories, and divisions created by laws, regulations, and tradition hope to contain messy, complicated people? Inevitably, one-size-fits-all systems are revealed to be anything but. And when the system doesn’t fit, it creates friction. Some people can accept the friction. Others find ways to cheat the system as compensation for the friction. And still others try to tear down the system.

Military man Oscar Britton bristles under the system when he turns up Latent, so he runs, not once but twice. He flees to the Source and tries to push the U.S. Government towards a new way of handling Latents via public statements and public spectacles. And unlike Harlequin, the military puts Bookbinder out to pasture. The black mark on his record that is FOB Frontier essentially kills his career and cripples his marriage. A promotion and a chance to test the limits of what his Boomers can do doesn’t quite make up for how the system has (mis)treated him, so Bookbinder struggles to find his way. Cole also offers glimpses of how other countries have reacted–both officially and unofficially–to the Great Reawakening, demonstrating just how complex and ill-suited some of these systems can be. No one seems to have a good handle on how to react to an upheaval of this scope, and that failure makes for top-notch conflict and growth.

Through the careful use of interlude scenes, Cole reveals the biggest reaction to the system: Scylla’s. Readers will learn who she is, who she was, and why she thinks the way she does. Cole not only creates empathy for his villain, but also enough twists and surprises to keep her from being a Magneto ripoff, fighting for Latent-rights. These scenes also offer a glimpse of Harlequin’s past, revealing that he has never been as simple as perhaps readers thought. And that makes his decisions as a leader in this event all the more intense.

The character arcs Cole has pulled off in this series are very impressive. Even secondary characters, such as Downer, have grown throughout the books. Each character becomes more complex and more interesting with each book. But don’t worry, this isn’t just a character study.

There is action aplenty. Scratch that. There is ACTION aplenty. Neighborhoods are destroyed, militaries clash in iconic locales, and the Peter V. Brett blurb (X-Men meets Black Hawk Down) has never seemed more apt. Oh, and did I mention Bookbinder (plus the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy) take on aquatic goblins? Yeah, that’s right. Things get crazy in this book. Cole definitely saved the biggest and baddest events for the last book in the trilogy.

I really can’t say enough good things about this book. BREACH ZONE is a big leveling-up of Cole’s talent. While the previous two books were very good, this one jumps to great. That’s not to say it’s an absolutely perfect read. I had issues with the pacing of Bookbinder’s plot (was he really fighting for days, like Harlequin?) and some of Cole’s descriptions of women. But I feel like I’m trying to find something wrong with the book, and that’s a jerk reviewer move. I should instead focus on how much I liked this book and how much I can’t wait to read Cole’s next book in this world.

So if you haven’t already pre-ordered BREACH ZONE, do so. It’s a great way to kick off 2014.