Sixteenth Watch


If you've been been a fan of the Hotlist for some time, you have heard me complain that it often feels as though Myke Cole remains one of the genre's best-kept secrets. Not everyone is a military fantasy fan, true, yet his first two series are as accessible as they are captivating. Indeed, the Shadow Ops and the Gemini Cell trilogies were fun, intelligent, action-packed, and entertaining reads. From the get-go, you could tell that Cole would become one of speculative fiction's brightest new voices. And he did. In this house at least. Unfortunately, following Siege Line Ace and Headline did not renew the series and the Shadow Ops sequence came to an abrupt end.

I remember corresponding with the author at the time and Cole truly believed that his writing career was over. Thankfully, he was wrong and the Sacred Throne trilogy was published by the folks at Tor.com. More novelette than novels, you probably recall that I didn't enjoy these books as much as I expected. Everything about the plot was black-and-white, which was a disappointment. Myke Cole habitually writes in shades of gray and there is always more than meets the eye. Trouble is, that new series was thoroughly YA in style and tone. It lacked all the shades of gray and substance that had made Cole one of my favorite SFF authors writing today. It didn't deliver the way Cole's novels normally did. Be that as it may, plenty of readers absolutely loved the Sacred Throne series and the author signed a new book deal with Angry Robot for a science fiction work that would feature the US Coast Guard in space.

And I'm pleased to report that Sixteenth Watch is a return to form for Cole!

Here's the blurb:

The Coast Guard must prevent the first lunar war in history.

A lifelong Search-and-Rescuewoman, Coast Guard Captain Jane Oliver is ready for a peaceful retirement. But when tragedy strikes, Oliver loses her husband and her plans for the future, and finds herself thrust into a role she’s not prepared for. Suddenly at the helm of the Coast Guard’s elite SAR-1 lunar unit, Oliver is the only woman who can prevent the first lunar war in history, a conflict that will surely consume not only the moon, but earth as well.


The premise of the novel is that both China and the USA are endeavoring to secure access to lucrative Helium-3 extraction points on the Moon. Tensions between the two countries have been rising and it appears that an armed conflict is fast becoming inevitable. Given the current situation, the US Navy has been overseeing most of the conflicts along the borders between American and Chinese lunar territories. But with the Navy considering every case as a potential military engagement, some believe that the Coast Guard, a branch of the US armed services but more of a law enforcement agency, could help deescalate those tensions if they patrolled the borders and dealt with smugglers and any other problems. Alas, the American military powers that be don't seem to have much faith in the Coast Guard.

Having served in the military allowed Cole to imbue the Shadow Ops books with a credibility regarding the realism of the use of magic and its ramifications up and down the chain of command. As a US Coast Guard veteran, the author was able to imbue Sixteenth Watch with an authenticity even as he extrapolates on the Guard's future duties in space. I also found it interesting that he was able to throw his reality TV experience into the mix. This book is unlike anything you have read so far. And that's a good thing.

All Shadow Ops installments were character-driven affairs and the same can be said of Sixteenth Watch. Myke Cole always had a knack for creating genuine three-dimensional protagonists with absorbing back stories. Pushing the envelope even more, this time his main protagonist is an "older" Coast Guard female officer approaching retirement. A no-nonsense type of woman, Captain Jane Oliver is put in charge of what can only be called a PR mission whose objective is to persuade politicians and the military brass back on Earth that the Coast Guard is indeed the best branch of American armed services to help secure the country's lunar borders. As was the case with Colonel Alan Bookbinder, the main character from Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier, Cole came up with an unusual protagonist readers are not supposed to root for. And yet, from the start, you can't help but love Oliver. The supporting cast is made up of a diverse group of men and women, but sadly they are not as well-drawn as the only POV character. Other than some sequences with Oliver's Executive Officer and some with General Fraser, I feel that the other members of the cast could have benefited from a bit more depth. I always thought 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. And this is certainly the case once again in this novel.

Sixteenth Watch features a lot of military lingo and acronyms. In order to maintain authenticity and not interrupt the narrative, Myke Cole elected not to define those acronyms for the most part and included a glossary at the end of the book. As a reader unfamiliar with such lingo, personally I would have preferred to have most of them defined the first time they appeared instead of having to go back to the glossary time and time again. It's not off-putting per se, but it does slow down the momentum of the novel when you're forced to do so.

As was the case with each new Shadow Ops novel, Myke Cole continues to grow and become more mature as a writer and he's in better control of his craft. As is usually his wont, the author keeps the pace nice and crisp. As political as it is action-packed, Sixteenth Watch is another compelling and entertaining read.

Sixteenth Watch is another military speculative fiction title with heart and soul. Here's to hoping that Myke Cole has plenty more such works in the pipeline.

The final verdict: 8/10

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