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Gemini Cell is the fourth novel in Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops series, but serves more as a prequel than any sort of continuation. I’ve been a fan of Myke for some time now, though I’d regretfully not read any of his novels until this one. I’m glad I started with the prequel if simply because it feels like a bit of an origin story for the plots of his later novels. One of the best military action writers I’ve ever read, Cole goes back to what looks to be the beginnings of the Supernatural Operations Corps, with a fantastic and action-packed story of honour, redemption, and loyalty.

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.

That 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 realizes 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…

I’ve found over the years, that people who write about soldiers in battle come from one of three camps. There are those who have no actual knowledge or experience of how this kind of thing works, those who’ve researched it or spoken to those who have experience, and those who are actually trained professional soldiers. Often the best results come from an author in the second group who is willing to consult with and be guided by somebody from the third. There’s no reason to assume that while a soldier is going to know more about combat than a non-soldier, they’ll be able to write it better than an author who doesn’t, if that non-soldier listened to the right people. Myke Cole, however, has the distinction of being both a soldier and a great author. I’ve followed him for some time on Twitter and have read some beautiful and personal pieces on his blog, and while he is often seen criticizing book covers for showing people with poor trigger discipline, some of his blog pieces show a deal of depth and consideration that is often assumed to be lacking in the stereotypical perception of a soldier. The result of this combination is a portrayal of combat that feels much more viscerally real, and is much more deeply engaging.

His characters use jargon. They should. It’s how they are trained. What his characters don’t do, for which I bless him, is feel the need to muse in their inner monologue about what the jargon means for the benefits of the reader. There’s a glossary at the back, and that does the job. I assume, as a reader, that any time I see text which is not in quotation marks or footnotes, that it reflects the inner thoughts of the current point-of-view character. To have a character say something like “CAS, we are dynamic, you are cleared hot” and then think to themselves for a sentence and a half that they’ve now therefore told their air support that the enemy knows they are around and they don’t need to be stealthy anymore, while it may serve to educate the reader without sending them flipping to the back of the book, also makes the soldier in question look like a bit of an idiot. The whole point of precise jargon, especially for soldiers, is that they know what it means, and don’t need to think about it. Schweitzer is very good at what he does, and he talks like it, and more importantly, he thinks like it. It makes him feel like a soldier better than any number of dead enemies could.

The other primary element of Gemini Cell is the supernatural component. Schweitzer is essentially possessed by a demon, and that appears to be the only thing keeping his corpse alive and moving around. The inner struggles he faces trying to keep the spirit at bay and not in control are fascinating and very well written. Schweitzer understands the way the modern professional soldier needs to be in a way that the ancient glory-seeking spirit inside him doesn’t. There’s something perhaps a little more far-reaching than just the surface level portrayal of what’s happening inside Schweitzer’s mind. The idea that logic, thought, consideration, discipline, and detachment are what make an effective soldier, not a desire for victory or glory, or violence. It’s something which isn’t as much in the public mind now as it was in the early and mid 2000s, but the attitude that people have, especially in the United States, towards the military is often prejudicial in a way that it seems clear to me that Cole has struggled against in his own life.

His willingness, therefore, to also portray the US military and intelligence agencies as maybe not being the best people in all cases also helped me enjoy this book much more. Given the kinds of things that happen to Schweitzer, it seems pretty clear to me that the people in charge of what was done to him are not exactly angels. There’s an element of necessity in what they’re doing that Schweitzer seems to accept at least a little, but he’s also still a professional, and if he feels that his loyalty and obedience are being abused he’s also not afraid to express that and react accordingly. Given this book, I’m more eager than ever to continue on with Control Point, Fortress Frontier and Breach Zone if simply to see how Cole gets us from Operation Gemini to what looks like a dedicated and formalized corps of the military in the later novels. I’m not normally a huge military fiction guy, but Myke Cole has sold me. This was a great read and I highly recommend it.

Dan received an Advance Review Copy of this novel from Ace via NetGalley

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