Army Officer. Fugitive. Sorcerer.
Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with magical talents. Untrained and panicked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set everything they touch ablaze.
Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieutenant attached to the military’s Supernatural Operations Corps, his mission is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly manifests a rare and prohibited magical power, transforming him overnight from government agent to public enemy number one.
The SOC knows how to handle this kind of situation: hunt him down–and take him out. Driven into an underground shadow world, Britton 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.
This is a military urban fantasy in the same way that there is military science fiction: lots of jargon, weapons, battles, and explosions. I like the themes of this book. I dislike our point of view character. Some of the background action isn’t clearly explained, which puzzles me. I will definitely be reading the next one.
This book drops you right into the middle of the action, which is a bit disconcerting when explosions are going off and a lot of new terminology is thrown at you. I mean “drops” literally, too. Our main character, Oscar, lands in a helicopter on the roof of a flaming school building in the very first pages – right into the middle of a battle. Just afterward, his forbidden talent manifests and we join him in hurtling from one disaster to another, too disoriented to do much but hang on and try to enjoy the ride.
There is a big theme here that examines what I (never having been in the military) must assume is a common internal conflict for soldiers between following orders and following their own internal moral code. When your officers (or government) declare as your enemy people who it appears are, well, people, it must be a hard thing to reconcile those two images and be able to rest easy at night.
What if the people declared “enemies” are fellow Americans? Pacifist tribes of kind, intelligent – though non-human – creatures? Cute young teenage girls? At what point do the good intentions of a massive bureaucracy cross into the realm of oppression and murder? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it’s the asking of it that matters.
The plot premise is good and the world-building is excellent (even if we don’t see too much of it). There’s even a bit of a surprise toward the end that I didn’t see coming at all. The book asks smart questions that had my brain chewing over them a long time after I put it down. Not only are there questions about the internal conflicts of being a solider, but also about what exactly makes us human. These questions have been asked before – most similarly in the X-Men universe – but it’s important to keep asking them until we either find the real answer or until we are truly no longer human. This book does an excellent job of that, and I foresee that getting more intense in subsequent novels.
The only downside I found in the story was the fact that I’m not sure if I liked Oscar. Our narrator is a bit of a whiner, and he is so focused on his own problems that it directly causes a good portion of the subsequent disasters that fall on the Shadow company team. The irony is that he spends a lot of the book worrying about others, but only in the context of his own situation.
For instance, early in the book there is a sort of “accident” with Oscar’s talent and it causes an event that leads to (presumably, as it’s off-camera) his father’s death. Now, Daddy was an abusive asshole, but the only time Oscar ever feels guilt about causing this death is when he thinks about what his mother must think of him now. It’s made pretty clear that he doesn’t feel badly that his father is actually dead – only that he now has to deal with the consequences of that death.
This is only one example, and probably the worst one since there’s a reason Oscar wouldn’t feel badly over this death. Further examples are a bit spoiler-y, but trust me when I say that once put in context with the other disasters Oscar causes, it’s pretty clear. This man is, if not selfish, then at the very least extremely self-centered. Obviously this gives the character room to learn and grow, so I’m willing to overlook my irritation when measured against the larger story.
I enjoyed this book, and the less-than-completely sympathetic main character was not much of a detriment when measured against the fascinating world. I’m not going to jump into reading a bunch more military fiction, but I will certainly follow this series and this author.