The final volume of Myke Cole's Shadow Ops trilogy, Breach Zone, has a distinct Dark Knight Rises vibe to it — appropriate, given that Cole worked on the film as an fighting extra in one of the film's battle scenes. It's all about a city in chaos, and what happens when people are pushed to breaking point.
In Breach Zone, a malevolent individual has invaded New York City, hell-bent on revenge, restructuring and pure chaos, opposed by a small band of out-gunned soldiers. It also continues a serious question that's been building in the trilogy: when does prohibition fail and what does an individual do when things are falling down?
Full disclosure: I and my wife are thanked in the book, along with our workplace, Norwich University, for bringing Cole to our campus for the Colby Military Writer's Symposium last year. We've had no direct impact or role in the book.
In the Shadow Ops universe, magic appeared during the Great Reawakening. Individuals manifested incredible powers across the world, sometimes with devastating consequences. In the first novel, Control Point, Oscar Britton manifests with the power to open portals, and is arrested and brought to Forward Operating Base Frontier in the Source, another world parallel to our own. In its sequel, Fortress Frontier, a Colonel, Alan Bookbinder, also manifests, and is brought to Frontier, where he's instrumental in saving the base after it comes under attack. Now, in Breach Zone, the action comes back home as Cole brings his story to an epic conclusion.
Scylla, a necromancer introduced in the first book, has been on the loose since her escape — and she's harboring a grudge. With an army at her back, she invades New York, bringing down a wave of destruction reminiscent of what we saw in Joss Whedon's The Avengers, but with all of the intent of Bane's mission to Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises. Opposing her and her forces is Jan Thorsson, aka 'Harlequin', who was instrumental in saving FOB Frontier, even as he broke a number of laws to do so. He faces an all-out invasion with the meager forces at his disposal.
Interspersed with the action are flashbacks to a point six years before the book begins, revealing that the fight between Scylla and Harlequin is a personal one. Scylla has been a consistent, but low-level antagonist throughout the series, but it's here that we see her origin story, and how it affected Harlequin and how her fall impacted his approach to the world around him. It's a tragic fall, and a key piece of the world which Cole has assembled. While the characters from Control Point and Fortress Frontier figure in prominently, this is Harlequin and Scylla's book, and their story is fantastic.
Each of the Shadow Ops books have been fairly unique stories thus far — Cole hasn't simply recycled his characters with a new enemy and situation. Control Point looks at one person caught in a nightmare, while Fortress Frontier looks at an entire organization. In Breach Zone, it's an entire city at stake. But more than that, Cole's managed to cover a hero's journey story, a quest story, and now a running battle interspersed with a romance. It works spectacularly.
At the root of each of Cole's books is the idea of responsibility, and he lays out a world that's rife with complexity and contradiction. After the Great Awakening, the United States passed legislation that heavily restricted magical use from all but a certain number of outlets. Individuals who manifested powers were taken into custody and trained — or if you manifested in a prohibited category, you were declared dead and hauled off to FOB Frontier, where you'd be kept away from harm. It's a deplorable situation, but Cole presents a counter argument in the form of Grace: she's responsible for a high death toll when she tries to escape, and so-called Probes, wildly firing off their powers, have the potential to cause a lot of harm.
The characters of Breach Zone serve in the US Military, where they're caught in this weird quandary. They're responsible for upholding the letter of the law, and as they tell one another frequently, they're not the ones who interpret it. They see why the laws are there because they're on the front lines. But in any case, they can't do anything but carry out their orders, much like any real-world cop who has issues with the War on Drugs or any soldier who has a problem with the War on Terror. All the while, they're facing an enemy born out of the consequences of their actions: Selfers (magic users who don't self-report) who simply want to find a way to live their lives the way they want, are squeezed between their morals and the government that wants them gone.
This is where Breach Zone becomes a book with a Message: this book is the capstone of the entire Shadow Ops trilogy, which broadly asks: What happens when something is banned? There could be persuasive arguments for it: Prohibition pointed to a lack of morality in society with alcohol as a cause. The war on drugs pointed to the harm that mind-altering substances could cause. In certain quarters, people equate same-sex marriages as a sign of declining civilization.
Here, it's argued that a magic wielder is the equivalent of a fighter jet. What's not taken into consideration is the counter arguments that tend to have more merit than the reason behind the ban itself: Alcohol has little to no causation for the root cause of society's ills. Pot isn't necessarily a gateway to crack cocaine, and gay marriage certainly isn't going to bring about the end of the world. Magic, while dangerous in the wrong hands, can do a lot of good for society, and its prohibition causes its own problems, much like prohibition of alcohol, drugs and marriage helped to encourage organized crime, overcrowded jails and a population of folks who have a hard time coming out. Magical users here can do some incredible things, and through fear, their potential is restricted.
Breach Zone, for all of the destruction, romance and action is about what happens when the cork pops, and when people are squeezed to their breaking point. Unintended consequences explode and make things worse for everyone caught in the crossfire. Breach Zone is Cole's best novel yet, and it's the perfect end to the trilogy he's constructed over the last three years.