Shadow Ops

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Shadow Ops is a Military Science Fiction/Urban Fantasy series that debuted in 2012, written by Myke Cole. The series is set Twenty Minutes Into the Future where humans are suddenly manifesting inexplicable magical powers, and deals with the military and political response to people suddenly gaining the ability to shoot fire or animate the dead, as well as supernatural entities from another reality intruding into Earth.

The first novel in the series, Control Point, centers on Lieutenant Oscar Britton of the United States Army. Britton finds himself supporting the Supernatural Operations Corps (SOC), a branch of the United States military tasked with responding to and policing supernatural threats, including people manifesting magical powers. After responding to an incident involving two teenage "Latents" who go on a rampage in a high school, Britton suddenly begins manifesting the ability to create magical gates. Unfortunately, this power is one of several "prohibited" abilities, and Britton finds himself a sudden fugitive, sent on the run for abilities he has no control over. Captured by the SOC, he is given a simple choice: be "hired" as a "private contractor" for the SOC, or be killed because of his excessively dangerous powers. Taking the choice that will keep him alive, Britton is put to work using his gate-creating powers to support military operations as part of a unit known as "Shadow Coven" - a small squad of magic-using contractors with skills in using the dangerous prohibited schools of magic. As the book progresses, Britton is forced to grapple with issues of personal and national loyalty, freedom versus security, and his own status as a superhuman who is effectively enslaved by his own government and military.

The series provides a uniquely realistic and military spin on the traditional Urban Fantasy setting. Gray and Grey Morality is abundant, with no "true" villain. While there are political undercurrents, they are largely background elements. It has been described as "X-Men meets Black Hawk Down" due to its combination of themes of metahuman superpowers and military fiction.

Tropes used in Shadow Ops include:
  • Arc Words: "Skill Beats Will." Latents with SOC training are better killers than Selfers.
    • Interestingly, the author himself disagrees with this; in his words,

Myke Cole: The key to any kind of unarmed combat is commitment. If you see two people squaring off to fight, watch them closely. The person backing up is more than likely going to lose. The person advancing is more than likely going to win. There’s also a principle of “explosive violence,” which I learned here (it’s one of the bigger schools where security contractors are trained before deploying). It’s funny, one of the mottos I have in the SHADOW OPS universe is “Skill beats Will.” That works for magic, but in real life, it’s the opposite. Explosive violence is a low skill, high will approach.

  • Affably Evil: Scylla.
  • Anti-Villain: SOC in general. Unregulated Latents, AKA "Selfers", can do horrifying amounts of damage without even trying. When they do try they can kill dozens of people in minutes. Organized ones have held the Southwest for years. However, their method of handling the situation is essentially enslaving and brainwashing children to kill people they don't like.
    • The Goblin "Defender" tribes are simply reacting violently to an invasion by the technologically more-advanced humans.
    • The Native American tribes of the Southwest had a statistically greater number of Latents, and were thus marked for conscription. Instead, they chose to revolt en masse. When SOC formed, their superior skills threatened to win the day, resulting in them making deals with some rather unpleasant shadow-creatures.
    • In the final confrontation, Britton has to fight the rest of Shadow Coven as well as Harlequin and a number of SOC redshirts.
  • Attempted Rape: A group of sentries who jump Britton and Downer attempt to rape her. One of them, a Pyromancer, sets himself partially ablaze as he takes off his belt. Britton manages to push through the Suppression, Portal Cut the sentry suppressing Downer's powers, and she makes fire elementals out of the flames forming around the would-be rapist's crotch.
    • Therese was nearly raped at one point, but that was when her Physiomancy manifested, and she used Rending to tear her attacker apart.
  • Axe Crazy: Scylla. Hoo boy.
  • Bad Powers, Bad People: Scylla is completely batshit insane, and her powers of Negramancy are some of the most powerful and terrifying in the book.
    • Fitzy is a general asshole to everyone, even before he starts getting drunk. He also wields powerful fire magic.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Truelove is a Necromancer, and one of the nicest and friendliest guys you'll meet.
    • Therese technically counts, as she used a "bad" application of Physiomancy in the form of rending, but is otherwise a kind person who just wants to heal people.
  • The Beast Master: "Whispering," an illegal application of terramancy, allows for control of animals.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Therese is described as one of the most beautiful women that Britton has ever met, and she also happens to be one of the kindest and gentlest. She also has healing powers on top of that.
  • Black Magic: Referred to as Negramancy, which is the power of entropy and rot.
  • Blob Monster: The Physiomancer inside the subway tunnels below New York City manifests as this. its only through some quick thinking by Britton and creative use of necromancy and gate magic that they stop it.
  • Body Horror: Physiomancy allows one to shape flesh to heal. It also allows one to engage in "Rending" which involves shaping flesh and living tissue to harm or kill. Late in Control Point, Shadow Coven has to fight a Physiomancer who does this to her own body, making a nearly unkillable Blob Monster.
  • Boxing Lessons for Superman: Britton is trained in gate-based martial arts, which is essentially Teleport Spamming.
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: The members of Shadow Coven are only permitted to live because their prohibited powers are extremely rare and powerful. Scylla, despite being a psychotic lunatic convinced that magic-users are superior to regular humans and who can kill hundreds without much effort, is kept alive and contained because her powers are just that valuable. Britton eventually learns that the SOC intends to lobotomize her to make her controllable.
    • Britton takes advantage of this during the final confrontation with Harlequin. Harlequin is trying to subdue Britton without killing him because they want his gate-forming powers. This lets Britton lure him into a trap when he jumps off the side of a building.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The teenage girl at the start of the book who summons elementals shows up later on at the SOC base in the Source as a part of Shadow Coven.
  • Civil War: The United States is experiencing one in the American Southwest between the federal government and Native American tribes, which appears to be backed by some kind of demonic entities from within the Source. The Caliphate is experiencing one between normal humans and the "djiin-born."
  • The Dark Arts: Any of the four Prohibited Schools: Negramancy, Portamancy, Necromancy, and Sentient Elemental Conjuration. There's also Rending (the use of Physiomancy to kill) and Whispering (use of Terramancy to control animals).
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Scylla's first escape attempt involved her distracting the guard assigned to Suppress her this way. She only needed a moment of freedom to start wreaking havoc.
  • Double Standard: In-universe, how a Latent is treated depends on who they are. Ordinary people who turn up Latent are conscripted or hunted. Rich people, professional sports players, famous actors, or the children of Senators? They get completely different treatment.
  • Differently-Powered Individual: Humans who can use magic are called "Latents". Latents who manifest in one of the Prohibited schools are called "Probes". Any Latent who refuses to surrender to the military is termed a "Selfer."
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Warrant Officer Fitzsimmons, aka "Fitzy" is one of the nastier sorts.
  • Elemental Powers: Four of the five legal schools fall under the classical elements.
    • Pyromancy: Shoot, create, and controlling fire. The only real use this power has is creating flames, unlike the other elements. Allows for the creation of fire elementals.
    • Hydromancy: Controlling water and other liquids. Hydromancers can also remove or add heat to water, generating steam or ice. Allows for the creation of water or ice elementals.
    • Terramancy: Controlling earth, dirt, rocks, etc. Also allows the terramancer to control plants and animals. Allows for the creation of earth elementals.
    • Aeromancy: Allows for flight, generation of wind, and creation of lightning. Skilled Aeromancers can control the weather and create lightning and air elementals.
  • Explosive Leash: An Asset Tracking/Termination Device is planted in Britton's heart to force him to cooperate.
  • Fantastic Drug: Dampener, which is used to control emotions and let magic-users control their powers more effectively. Britton notes that if Dampener were to be released to the general public, it would greatly reduce the threat of out-of-control Latents, and uses this as one his many reasons to despise the SOC.
  • Fantastic Racism: Normal humans toward Latents, humans and Latents toward Probes, and humans in general toward Goblins.
    • The Caliphate, a fundamentalist Islamic superstate that sprung up in the Middle East and Europe, takes this to extremes: all Latents, no matter who they are, are to be killed on sight due to the Caliphate's strict interpretation of the Qur'an. This leads to frequent and violent riots and fighting between Caliphate military-police and Latents who call themselves the "djiin-born.
  • Fatal Flaw: Britton will do anything to protect his allies. Including monumentally stupid acts like freeing an insane Latent-supremacist with the power to rust and rot everything within her line of sight.
  • Functional Magic:
  • Golem: Elemental Latents can create these (called "elementals") out of their respective elements, though they are little more than extensions of their creator. Sentient Elemental Conjurers can create self-aware elemental golems assuming the elemental material is available.
  • Gray and Grey Morality: Everywhere. The Selfers are pretty much street gangs with superpowers, and they kill people by the dozens. The Indian uprisings are simply larger gangs, with the bonus of practicing human sacrifice to enhance their powers. The SOC is essentially a death squad staffed by Stockholm Syndrome slaves - and because they have the best training, they're the best killers. Exemplified in the final confrontation, where Britton ends up fighting most of his own Shadow Coven, and killing one of them and severely wounding the rest, after he goes rogue.
  • Groin Attack: When a Pyromancer tries to rape Downer and sets his crotch on fire, she creates fire elementals from it. Ow.
  • Healing Hands: Healing Physiomancy involves this. Most of the time it is painless, but when the physiomancer is asked to do something very complex like extract the Explosive Leash from Britton's heart the pain involved can be lethal by itself.
  • Heroic BSOD: The NYPD SWAT Team captain who accompanies Shadow Coven into the subway tunnels completely loses it after the battle is over. But considering what he witnessed, there's a damned good reason for it.
  • If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him: Pretty much Britton's argument when he talks Swift out of killing a helpless Harlequin for killing his pregnant girlfriend. Selfers kill for power, and the SOC does the same. Britton wants to be something better.
  • Inhumanable Alien Rights: Latents in general. The best a Latent can expect from SOC is to be treated as a useful tool. Stop being useful and they'll just lobotomize you and use you like a piece of machinery.
  • Jerkass: Fitzy is pretty much a titanic asshole, and gets violent when drunk.
  • Kick the Dog: When Scylla escapes, the first thing she does is kill Salamander, then dozens of other SOC soldiers nearby.
  • Kill It with Fire: How Britton manages to take out the Blob Monster Physiomancer in the New York sewers. He essentially opens a gate to the SASS, and has one of the most powerful pyromancers cut loose through the gate to burn it down.
  • Knight Templar: Fitzy believes that he has to treat Shadow Coven like dangerous, living nuclear weapons because they're too dangerous for regular society.
  • Lethal Harmless Powers: Whispering lets the magic user control animals. Getting swarmed by thousands of enraged rats, spiders, and other tiny animals is very lethal.
  • Mage Killer: One of the SOC's primary roles.
  • Magic Is a Monster Magnet: Gates to the Source have a tendency to attract hostile beasts.
  • The Magic Versus Technology War: The conflict between the SOC inside the Source and the Goblin "Defender" tribes. The Caliphate is engaged in a magic vs. technology civil war because their interpretation of Islamic law holds that anyone with magical abilities is to be executed immediately, resulting in constant running battles between government military-police and the "djiin-born" rebels.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The black-skinned demonic entities who appear to be behind both the suddenly-violent magic-wielding Native American rebels in the US southwest, and also seem to be backing the more violent Goblin Defender tribes. Their precise motivations and purpose are unclear.
  • Might Makes Right: The only difference between SOC and the Selfers. The SOC has mind-stablizing drugs, state-of-the-art weapons, and most importantly, the US Armed Forces' tried-and-true methods of turning teenage dropouts into skilled killers. "Skill Beats Will."
  • The Mole: Wavesign.
  • Moral Myopia: Initially, Britton condemns the SOC for treating Latents as threats to be shot on sight instead of people, but when he manifests a proscribed ability he proceeds to freak out and run, in the process killing two people by accident - one of them being his own father. At this point he has a breakdown over his myopia.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-universe, Britton agrees with Swift that Harlequin's murder of Swift's (non-latent!) pregnant girlfriend is unforgivable. Unfortunately, Britton can't let Swift kill Harlequin while he's helpless.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Britton's reaction when he kills his father and later when he lets Scylla loose.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Harlequin's opinion on the SOC.
  • Muggles: Nonmagical humans, which make up the majority of the human population. Scylla views them as little more than cattle and slaves to Latents.
  • Mundane Utility: Countless examples. Hydromancy is used to treat burn wounds and heat up cold showers, Terramancy gets used to clean mud-splattered clothes, and Whispering is used to get animals to clean up.
    • It turns out that magic is being misused by the United States; the Super Registration Act practiced by the United States forces all Latents to join the military or go under permanent suppression. China, however, allows Latents to work for various engineering companies, allowing them to pull off construction projects at incredible speed and with minimal expense.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Britton tends to cause as much trouble as he fixes, starting with accidentally killing his father and a police officer with uncontrolled gates, and culminating in letting Scylla loose.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Britton refusing to leave anyone behind during the botched recon mission to one of the Goblin camps. Fitzsimmons gets infuriated when Britton risks his life to save him, because Britton is too valuable a weapon.
  • Not So Different: In the end, Britton realizes that this is the case with the Selfers and the SOC - both kill to enforce their will, neither have any care for innocent people caught in the crossfire, and the SOC are simply better killers.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Wavesign.
  • One-Man Army: Shadow Coven is explicitly described as being made up of magic users who fill this role. Downer can create countless elementals that act on their own, Truelove can animate any dead body, Richards can control entire legions of animals, and Britton's gate abilities give him incredible destructive potential and mobility.
  • One Person, One Power: One person can only manifest a single school.
    • Except for the fact that everyone with powers can also suppress the powers of others if they bother to learn how.
  • Origin Story: Control Point comes off as this for Britton and his companions in general.
  • Our Goblins Are Wickeder: Goblins are natives of the Source who are far more likely to turn up Latent. They resemble small humanoids with enormous heads, pointy ears, and long noses.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Scylla. When others are talking about her, they say that she killed about twenty or thirty people the last time she got loose. When Britton sets her free, she destroys the entire FOB perimeter defenses, killing hundreds of people, with about as much trouble as crushing ants.
    • Britton is one as well, once he fully understands how to use his powers. Between instant teleportation to wherever he wants to go, the ease by which he can Portal Cut (see below), insane mobility, and the ability to use his gates as shields and means to attack from unexpected directions, he can cause tremendous destruction with just a bit of creativity.
  • Pet the Dog: Scylla won't hesitate to massacre her captors, but when she escapes from her Suppression and starts slaughtering the SOC guards around the SASS compound, she deliberately avoids harming any of the students/prisoners because she cares about them.
  • Portal Cut: Britton's gates instantly sever any solid material if they manifest over it, or if something is halfway through the gate. This makes him insanely deadly once he knows how to use it.
  • Post Modern Magic: When you're manifesting magical gates in order to throw Black Hawk helicopters at people, you know you're in this genre.
  • Power Incontinence: Newly-manifesting Latents cannot control their powers, and if their emotions get out of control they can cause massive destruction. Drawing too much magical power can cause a magic-user to "go nova" and kill themselves.
    • One of the worst examples is Wavesign, who can't control his hydromancy. Subverted. He's fully in control, he's just hiding it as an SOC plant inside the SASS.
  • Power Nullifier: Suppression is a skill available to any Latent that allows them to cut off the magic of other Latents. The US Marines use what are referred to as "Suppression Lances" which are squads of Latents whose sole job is to Suppress enemy magic-users so they can be taken down with conventional weapons.
  • Private Military Contractors: All the members of Shadow coven are technically mercenary contractors working for a corporation called Entertech. In reality, they're effectively conscripts who only get to remain relatively free as long as they work for the SOC.
  • Psychic Surgery: Physiomancy is essentially this.
  • Rescue Romance: One-sided; Downer has a major crush on Harlequin because she feels he "rescued" her after the high school rampage at the beginning.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Captain Salamander, head of the SASS, which is essentially a prison/school to hold captured Latents in an effort to educate them in controlling their powers and to join the SOC.
  • Redshirt Army: Regular Army troops, SOC assault troops, and NYPD SWAT Teams all get this treatment. Harlequin even explicitly describes Britton's Army unit as something that will "just get in my way" at the beginning.
  • Sequel Hook: Control Point ends with Britton effectively saying that his story has only just begun. There's also the black shadow-creatures from the Source that were behind many of the immediate conflicts with the SOC.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Britton is given a look at the only other living portomancer, Billy, who was "uncooperative" but deemed useful. The SOC lobotomized him, turning him into a childlike retard who they could use to create gates at will. Though not stated outright, the threat to Britton is made clear.
  • Shoot the Dog: SOC's job regarding Latents who don't surrender. At the end of Control Point, Britton has to kill Billy, the lobotomized Portamancer being used by the SOC so that he and the rest of the escapees can be free.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Harlequin, the SOV Aeromancer who pursues Britton through the first parts of Control Point is a textbook Type 1; deeply patriotic, convinced of the necessity of his work, and genuinely sure that unregulated Latents are scum who deserve whatever he does for them for running. However, he also genuinely enjoys his work, whether it be killing Selfers or even just hazing reluctant SOC trainees. And neither he nor his superiors have any problem with killing mundanes who give aid and comfort to Selfers: case in point, he killed Swift's pregnant girlfriend without blinking while arresting him and never thought about it again.
  • Spirit World: The Source, which is an alternate reality where all sorts of monsters come from.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Perhaps not purposefully, Shadowrun. In the RPG, when The Magic Comes Back, Indian tribes drive the government off their ancestral lands with magic and Mega Corps are able to seize power from national governments in the chaos. In Shadow Ops, Reality Ensues. The military is the first to refine magical power to a fine edge, the US military is among the best in the world, and quickly increase government power by means of "Skill Beats Will." Therefore, the tribes are in an ongoing war to keep the territory, and only holding on due to their willingness to use Black Magic. Corporations have been denied Latent assets at SOC-point. As for Japanese ascendance? They're dependent on American assets for defense, so they probably have to surrender their Latents to the American SOC. China has a healthier economy than America in Shadow Ops because their government shares Latent assets with their corporations.
  • The Squad
  • Stockholm Syndrome: SOC's preferred method of recruiting Latents. Hold out too long and they'll lobotomize you. Britton almost succumbs to it due to his pre-Latency life as a US soldier, but breaks free easily once he realizes that the similarities between the SOC and the Army are superficial - where the Army's purpose is to protect the defenseless, SOC's purpose is to turn Latents into obedient killing machines.
  • Summon Magic: Gates can bring hostile, uncontrolled creatures into the Home Plane. Sentient Elemental Conjuration allows a Latent to create active elementals out of local materials or energy that act on their own.
  • Supernatural Sensitivity: Latents can sense magic in each other.
  • Super Registration Act: A core element of the story is how the laws surrounding use of magic affects people, and how just/unjust the legal oppression/conscription of magic-users is. Britton doubts whether it is justified, and steadily shifts to opposing it outright, while Harlequin strongly believes in the necessity of the SOC and controlling magic-users, despite the flaws in the system.
  • Take a Third Option: Britton eventually does this after realizing Selfers and SOC are Not So Different - both kill to enforce their will, the SOC are just better killers. His solution is a return to his original ethics as a non-magical soldier - the first step being "Don't Kill If You Don't Have To"; convincing Swift to spare a helpless Harlequin.

Britton: We came here to escape. We've done that. Killing more people won't accomplish anything. That's what Selfers do. We're not Selfers, Swift. We're not SOC. We're the real good guys, and it's time we started acting like it. I'm through with magic as a bludgeon. It stops here.

  • There Are No Therapists: The Covens are a Dysfunction Junction of Shell-Shocked Veteran Child Soldiers. A few good therapists could have prevented the entire plot. Problem is, a therapist could do absolutely bupkis under SOC operational standards - psychological stability and chattel slavery are pretty much mutually exclusive.
  • Whatevermancy: All magical schools except Sentient Elemental Conjuration are named this way.
  • X Meets Y: Described as "X-Men meets Black Hawk Down." One can also add in The Dresden Files and F.E.A.R. as well. Hell, Scylla is, for all intents and purposes, a psychotic fusion of Alma Wade and Magneto.
  • You Killed My Father: Swift has such an intense hatred for SOC in general and Harlequin in particular because Harlequin killed his girlfriend and unborn child while arresting Swift. At the end of Control Point, Britton barely manages to talk Swift out of killing a wounded Harlequin in cold blood.