Right off the bat, let's get one thing straight: Myke Cole is the shit! All three installments of the Shadow Ops series were fresh and unlike anything else I had ever read. Control Point, Fortress Frontier, and Breach Zone were fun, intelligent, action-packed, and entertaining reads, each with a generous dose of ass-kicking! Too bad the author signed a mass market paperback book deal and doesn't get a whole lot of marketing to help promote his books, for his first trilogy is as accessible as it is compelling. It's been years since I last encountered a fantasy series with so much mass appeal and there's nothing I would like more than to see these books get more widely read and enjoyed.
Having said that, Cole closed the show on the Shadow Ops series last year, capping everything off with style and aplomb. So that story arc is over and this new trilogy will focus on the early days of the Great Awakening, when magic first returned to the world and changed everything. Hence, Cole couldn't build on existing storylines and was forced to start from scratch, with brand new characters, new realities as the world order begins to unravel, and totally different plotlines. Could he do it again? Could this new series live up to the lofty expectations created by the way the author set the bar so high with the Shadow Ops series? Well, I'm please to report that once more, the answer is a resounding yes! At least as far as this first volume is concerned, in any case.
Here's the blurb:
Myke Cole continues to blow the military fantasy genre wide open with GEMINI CELL, an all-new epic adventure in the highly acclaimed Shadow Ops universe. US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer is a consummate professional, a fierce warrior, and a hard man to kill. But when he sees something he was never meant to see on a covert mission gone bad, he finds himself – and his family – in the crosshairs. Nothing means more to Jim than protecting his loved ones, but when the enemy brings the battle to his front door, he is overwhelmed and taken down.
It should be the end of the story. But Jim is raised from the dead by a sorcerer and recruited by a top secret unit dabbling in the occult, known only as the Gemini Cell. With powers he doesn’t understand, Jim is called back to duty – as the ultimate warrior. As he wrestles with a literal inner demon, Jim realises his new superiors are determined to use him for their own ends and keep him in the dark – especially about the fates of his wife and son…
As was the case in his last offering, Myke Cole seems more mature as a writer and in better control of his craft. And as always, having served in the military allows the author to imbue his books with a credibility regarding the realism of the use of magic in military operations and its ramifications up and down the chain of command. I feel that it gives any Myke Cole work its unique "flavor" and remains what sets them apart from everything else on the market. With magic returning to the world, it was interesting to see how the US military tried to take advantage of these new powers in the early days of what would come to be known as the Great Awakening. I'm particularly looking forward to finding out how the top secret unit known as the Gemini Cell will grow to become the SOC.
All three Shadow Ops volumes were character-driven affairs and the same can be said of Gemini Cell. This may be military fantasy, yet Myke Cole has a knack for creating genuine three-dimensional protagonists with absorbing back stories. I feel that Cole never did receive the credit he deserves for having a deft human touch which allows him to come up with unexpected emotional scenes packing a powerful punch. Jim Schweitzer is an easy character to root for and I enjoyed how the author brought him back to life and how he portrayed his struggles to maintain his identity. I felt that there was a good balance between his POV and that of his wife Sarah, who's been told that her husband has passed away. The hopeless love affair with Steve made me groan in frustration, but I should have known that Cole wouldn't go for the path of least resistance. Scenes with Eldredge, Jawid, and Ninip gave us a fascinating glimpse of the repercussions engendered by the return of magic and I'm really looking forward to more of that in the upcoming installments.
As is usually his wont, Cole keeps the pace nice and crisp, and Gemini Cell is a another page-turner. You may recall that, although I loved Breach Zone, I felt that the 300-page set-up and only 30-something pages to close the show felt a bit incongruous. I am aware that mass market paperback editions habitually preclude the sort of word count that authors publishing hardbacks can work with. But these last two novels demonstrated that Cole likely needs more pages to do justice to the tale he is telling. Here's to hoping that his editors will give him a bit more freedom in the future, as once again I felt that Gemini Cell would have been stronger, especially where the finale is concerned, if Cole had had more pages to work with, thus giving him the opportunity to bring this book to an end without being forced to rush everything.
With Gemini Cell, Myke Cole proves that the Shadow Ops trilogy was no fluke. It's everything the first series was and then some! Don't feel bad if you haven't given Cole a shot yet. Rejoice, for you can now dive into no less than four engaging and entertaining novels, with more on the way!
Myke Cole's Gemini Cell is military fantasy at its best!