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Literature: Shadow Ops
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 second book, Fortress Frontier, was released on January 29, 2013. In addition to continuing Britton's story, it introduces a new character, Colonel Alan Bookbinder, who is drafted into the SOC after turning up Latent, with an as-yet-unknown school. In the aftermath of a violent disaster at the climax of the previous book, he has to take command of the remaining forces at FOB Frontier, deep within the Source, and lead them to safety.

The third book, Breach Zone, was released on January 28, 2014. Scylla, the secondary villain from the first two books, returns to attack New York City with an army of monsters gathered from the Source, and it is up to a badly outnumbered military force under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jan "Harlequin" Thorssen to save the city.

The series provides a uniquely realistic and military spin on the traditional Urban Fantasy setting with abundant Gray and Grey Morality. 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 featured:

  • 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. In Fortress Frontier is is revealed that she was actually a corporate executive, right up until her powers Manifested and she was taken down by a SOC unit.
  • Anti-Magic:
    • Any Latent can Suppress another Latent, assuming their magic is strong enough to counter the other's. Scylla's magic is so powerful it can't be Suppressed by any single Latent.
    • It turns out that Bookbinder's school gives him the ability to literally pull the magic out of another Latent and put it into a nearby object, effectively letting him "enchant" things.
  • 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. Later on it is revealed that they actually consider humans to be "dead" because they were believed to have separated from the Source in prehistoric times, and that the Defenders consider current humans to be "walking dead."
    • 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 allying with the Black Mountain Gods, or Gahe.
    • In the final confrontation of Control Point, Britton has to fight the rest of Shadow Coven as well as Harlequin and a number of SOC redshirts.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Scylla convinces the Gahe to work for her by essentially kicking the crap out of them herself.
  • The Atoner: Britton spends much of Fortress Frontier trying to make amends for his mistakes in Control Point. Harlequin spends much of Breach Zone trying to make up for his own actions in Fortress Frontier.
  • Attempted Rape:
  • Axe Crazy: Scylla. Breach Zone eventually reveals that early versions of Limbic Dampener caused mental degradation, and she was pretty much mainlining that at six times the regular dosage to hide her magic. It ultimately was responsible for her snapping when she was arrested and killing hundreds of people.
  • 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:
    • Britton's powers are considered a prohibited school because of their destructive potential, but ultimately he's a good guy at heart.
    • 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.
    • Before she became Scylla, Grace Lyons was a perfectly benign person who used her wealth to fund many humanitarian projects and research, and was planning on using Limbic Dampener help mankind. And she also had the power of Negramancy.
  • The Beastmaster: "Whispering," an illegal application of terramancy, allows for control of animals. This control is also very extreme, overriding the animal's natural instincts and thoughts and turning them into remote-controlled killing machines. Taken to horrifying levels in Breach Zone, where a group of goblin Terramancers unleash all of the rats and pigeons in New York City on the human defenders.
  • 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.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: At the end of Breach Zone, Scylla opts to commit suicide when the massive combined force overwhelms the invading army.
  • Big Bad: Several:
    • Scylla, the lunatic Negramancer who, by the time of Fortress Frontier, has taken control of the Gahe which are backing both the Mescalero rebellion and the Goblin Defenders. By Breach Zone she's fully taken over as the Big Bad.
    • President Walsh for Fortress Frontier and serves as a background villain for Control Point, as he's behind much of the most severe anti-Latent policies and pretty much responsible for the invasion of the Source and the other, more brutal SOC actions. Walsh is removed entirely from the story by Breach Zone.
    • Entertech, however, is the Big Bad, as they're pretty much responsible for establishing the laws - through paid politicians - that caused the violent social conflict between Selfers and the government to begin with, all because they recognized the power of magic and how much money could be made by controlling Latents, as well as the power of Limbic Dampener and the limitless resources of the Source. Of course, these laws end up backfiring spectacularly, taking over Channel Corporation ended up creating Scylla in the first place, and invading the Source just pissed off everything that lived there, and let Scylla build an army out of the furious denizens of that plane.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Britton's gate magic lets him specialize in this, and at the climax of Fortress Frontier, he gates in an entire National Guard rapid-response unit to save FOB Frontier, and then turns around and gates in Marty's entire Goblin tribe to save the National Guard.
    • In Breach Zone, Britton does it again, by saving Harlequin from Scylla by gating in a small army of Limpiados.
  • 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.
    • One Selfer gang, the Mexican-based Limpiados, deliberately do this to themselves, giving them skull-like faces and twisted bodies.
  • Boxing Lessons for Superman: Britton is trained in gate-based martial arts, which is essentially Teleport Spamming.
  • The Brigadier: Brigadier General Bookbinder becomes both this and a Four-Star Badass in Breach Zone, after his promotion from being Colonel Badass in the previous book.
  • 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 USA 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."
  • Colonel Badass: Colonel Alan Bookbinder earns the Badass part during the course of Fortress Frontier. His promotion between books leads to him being a Four-Star Badass in Breach Zone, albeit with only one star.
  • Curbstomp Battle: Britton leading his team against Scylla and her Gahe minions early on in Fortress Frontier. It doesn't end well for them.
  • Cutting the Knot: When conducting a hostage-rescue mission, Britton is confronted with an enemy who is willing to use a bomb vest to kill the hostages, and said bomb vest has a deadman's switch. How does Britton deal with it? He uses a Portal Cut to sever the wire connecting the detonator to the vest.
  • 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).
  • Deadly Decadent Court: The Naga Raajya is a more subdued example, but they're still an example of this based simply on the opulence of their palace and how they treat their rulers and humans.
  • Death World: The Source. Legions of hostile goblins, giant birds, casowary-analogues that shoot massive sonic-booms, and demonic, violent horses that imitate the cries of their victims right before killing them are just the start. There's also titantic multilegged river crocodiles, actual dragons, the Agni Danav - a hostile race of burning, demonic bull-headed beasts who lay claim to regions by erupting volcanoes over their territory - and the Gahe smoke demon creatures. And this is just a small sampling of the monsters roaming the Source.
  • Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: One of Bookbinder's tricks, allowing him to pull the magic out of Latents and infuse bullets with that element. This later proves essential to defeating the Gahe in Breach Zone.
  • 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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: At least one SOC screed is little more than a fascist declaration that anyone with magic must sacrifice themselves for the good of the state and society.
  • 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.
  • Enemy Mine: The climax of Breach Zone involves a massive combined force of Selfers united behind Oscar Britton and US military, NYPD, and SOC Sorcerers united behind Harlequin, all supported by a legion of undead summoned by Truelove and even a small army of Los Zetas cartel Selfers and a bunch of angry New Yorkers all teaming up to bring the fight to Scylla. Even Entertech, the Mega Corp. directly responsible for much of the legislation that caused the whole thing to begin with, gets in on the action by supplying Britton's Selfers with Limbic Dampener to make them as effective as the SOC.
  • Entropy and Chaos Magic: Scylla's Negramancy essentially causes mass entropy in anything. Even the barriers between realities.
  • Even Sociopathic Soldiers Have Standards: Harlequin is an eager SOC hardliner who genuinely enjoys hazing recalcitrant trainees, killing rebel magic users as well as any mundanes who dare to aid them, and combat in general. However, when President Walsh orders him to abandon FOB Frontier to die, he frees Bookbinder and Britton with no strings attached and begs them to help rescue the base - despite the inevitable political fallout that could almost certainly lead to civil war. Breach Zone is largely from his perspective, and it shows how far he's come with regards to those standards, especially when he looks at soldiers who hide behind the excuse of having to follow orders.
  • Explosive Leash: An Asset Tracking/Termination Device is planted in Britton's heart to force him to cooperate.
  • Fantastic Drug: Limbic 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. Grace Lyons, the drug's original developer, actually planned this very same thing, until her Negramancy was revealed, and her corporation and the Dampener itself was taken over by Entertech, who sold it exclusively to SOC. It turns out that when given to untrained Selfers, Limbic Dampener makes them perform at a level comparable to fully-trained SOC Sorcerers.
  • 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''.
    • The goblin Defenders believe all humans are "walking dead" and equate them with zombies, because they are separated from the Source. Thus they have no qualms with killing every non-Latent human they see.
  • 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.
  • Freudian Excuse: The Big Bads of both Control Point and Breach Zone.
    • Harlequin was once in love with Grace, who was Madden Into Misanthropy and became Scylla. As a result, he went into full-on My Country, Right or Wrong until Walsh tried to abandon FOB Frontier to save his own ass.
    • Scylla was once a Richard Branson-like Aunt Pennybags who secretly triggered in a prohibited school and spent billions developing Limbic Dampener, which she intended to distribute at cost. Entertech exposed her so they could steal it from her, along with her Fiction 500 company, as part of their ongoing plans to turn Latents into a slave race. This, along with her abuse of the drug to hide her abilities, turned her into a Latent-supremacist who believed that "normals" would only treat her fairly if she forced them to.
  • Functional Magic: Pretty much one of the fundamental cornerstones of the series. Magic follows strict, understandable rules, even when its something totally new, like Bookbinder's powers.
  • 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.
  • Good Powers, Bad People: Any physiomancer using Rending, like the lunatic loose in the NYC sewers. There's also the head SOC medic, who is only a doctor in the most technical terms, as he spends most of his time cutting up bodies in the labs and administering lobotomies to Latents who don't behave, and is generally an entitled jackass who has to be bribed to use his physiomancy powers to actually heal someone.
  • Gray and Grey Morality: Everywhere. The Selfers are individuals with little or no control over their powers and cause widespread destruction. The Indian uprisings are more organized but even more violent, with the bonus of practicing human sacrifice to enhance their powers. The SOC that fights both of them is necessary to prevent widescale destruction, but they are also 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.
    • Hydromancy is nowhere as effective as physiomancy, but it does allow a hydromancer to treat burn victims, which are quite common injuries where the SOC is involved.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Harlequin in Fortress Frontier, once he realizes how corrupt and self-serving President Walsh is.
  • Heroic BSOD:
    • Britton, once he realizes just how deep his Moral Myopia goes, and also after he releases Scylla.
    • 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.
    • Bookbinder, multiple times, as The Chains of Commanding keep weighing him down.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: Grace Lyons, humanitarian billionaire who seeks to end the Selfer problem by developing and distributing Limbic Dampener at cost. and also a Negramancer who eventually becomes Scylla.
  • Hot-Blooded: Britton generally makes his decisions in the heat of the moment, out of fear for himself or his allies. This is his biggest flaw, and results in a lot of the damage he accidentally inflicts on everyone around him. At the same time, it also leads to some of his most spectacular moments of heroism, such as holding off an entire fortress of Goblins by himself to save the crew of his helicopter.
  • Hypocrite: Everywhere, and very deliberate.
    • Harlequin in particular and the SOC in general. Harlequin says that the law is immutable and that it gives him and the SOC the authority to carry out his killings of Selfers and Probes, but he and the SOC are all too swift to snap up any Probes they can because of how useful their powers are, up to an including a Person of Mass Destruction like Scylla.
    • The SOC's hypocrisy is half the reason why President Walsh refuses to rescue FOB Frontier. The only way to save the base would require a massive evacuation effort that would demand a Portamancer, which is a Prohibited talent that the SOC has repeatedly denied they use, and they'd have no way to hide that they were using one during such a massive evacuation.
    • Ultimately, the entire system of prosecuting Latents is shown to be one of these, with one quote in Breach Zone calling out America on its hypocrisy.
    Let's get this straight. You build an entire legal framework dedicated to persecuting and punishing those who deign to use magic outside your arbitrary guidelines. Then, you're surprised when the pariahs you've created make war on you? The only Selfer threat is the one you made for yourself. America is a nation choking on its own hypocrisy.
    • One quote notes that magic is considered haram in Islamic society and Saudi Arabia bans it completely... except that mysterious storms keep consistently dispersing protests in that country....
  • 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 executing his pregnant girlfriend. Selfers kill for power, and the SOC does the same. Britton wants to be something better.
  • Immune to Bullets: Gahe are completely immune to conventional firearms. Only magic, or magically-infused bullets like the kind Bookbinder can make can harm them.
  • 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.
    • Becomes a full-on urban war in Breach Zone when Scylla leads her army into Manhattan itself.
  • Majorly Awesome: Major Jan Thorsson aka Harlequin. Even Britton, who dislikes him, admits he is impressive.
  • Make Them Rot: The book series has random people manifesting powerful magical powers. On rare occasions one of these powers is Negramancy, the power to accelerate entropy. When it is used, objects crumble to dust in seconds and living things start to rot and decay. The power is casually called Witchcraft or Black Magic and its use is prohibited under the penalty of death.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The black-skinned demonic entities known as Gahe (or Black Mountain Gods) 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 up until Breach Zone, where it is revealed that they consider the various Native American tribes to be their "children" and are fighting to protect them.
  • Mega Corp.: Entertech, the Halliburton/Blackwater Fictional Counterpart which "employs" the "contractors" of SOC. In Breach Zone, it's revealed that they are essentially the Big Bad of the entire series. Originally thrown together by opportunistic politicians from both parties to exploit loopholes in the Super Registration Act, they became the most powerful corporation in the world by exposing humanitarian billionaire Grace Lyons as a Negramancer and stealing her company - along with the sole rights to produce Limbic Dampener, which she originally planned to distribute at cost. In the process they turn Grace into Scylla.
  • Might Makes Right: The only difference between SOC and the Selfers. The SOC has mind-stabilizing 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." And the drugs were stolen by the SOC explicitly to enforce Might Makes Right - see Mega Corp above.
  • Military Superhero: Britton is probably the only person in the SOC who might be considered one, as the rest are violent Punch Clock Villains at best and sociopaths at worst.
  • The Mole: Wavesign in Control Point. Big Bear in Fortress Frontier.
  • 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.
  • Muggles Do It Better: The Goblins have numbers, large amounts of Sorcerers, dragons, massive rocs, giants, and the backing of the Gahe. Humans have machineguns, tanks, Strykers, Apache helicopters, and A-10 Warthogs. The only reason that FOB Frontier is overrun is because half the base was leveled by Scylla and they were cut off from resupply when the SOC's only Portamancer was killed.
    • It turns out that there's one thing muggles can't do better at: fighting gahe, which are Immune to Bullets. Only magic can contain them, and getting magical support is one of the biggest problems Harlequin faces while fighting Scylla's army in Breach Zone.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Britton's reaction when he thinks he's killed his father and later when he lets Scylla loose. Harlequin goes through this over the course of Breach Zone.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Harlequin's opinion on the SOC. But when President Walsh essentially orders that there be no rescue attempt for FOB Frontier until after the next election (in eight months!) to avoid the horrible press that would result, Harlequin decides that he's had enough.
  • 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.
    • Even in combat, magic gets used for surprisingly mundane tasks. Hydromancy, for example, is used during an assault to freeze locks to make them brittle so they can be quietly cut, or to weaken a metal door so that it can be smashed down quickly without needing a battering ram.
    • Mundane Utility turns out to be so useful that its ultimately part of the root cause of the entire conflict over the series. The monetary gain from what magic could do, especially with control over the weather to do things like grow crops in perfect conditions or protect shipping from storms was so immense that Entertech and Washington politicians tried to pretty much turn Latents into slave labor. This, coupled with widespread fear of magic, made it easy to pass the laws to control Latents.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Britton tends to cause as much trouble as he fixes, starting with accidentally dumping his father and a police officer into the Source, getting the latter killed 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.
    • Downer in Breach Zone practically holds entire barricades from whole armies of monsters singlehandedly with her elementals.
  • 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. Fortress Frontier is one for Bookbinder.
  • Our Monsters Are Different:
    • Our Demons Are Different: Two known types: the Gahe, which are demonic beings revered by the Mescalero rebels as "Black Mountain Gods" who can Flash Step and are apparently made of icy-cold smoke. The second type are the Agni Danav, which are huge, flaming bull-like creatures who mark their territory by creating erupting volcanoes around it.
    • Our Dragons Are Different: Dragons form mounts for Goblin defenders, though they only seem to be large flying reptiles, with no Breath Weapon.
    • Our Giants Are Bigger: The Goblin Defenders have some kind of massive variant of Goblin that tower a dozen feet tall, and are strong enough they grab Blackhawks or Abrams tank turrets and use them as clubs.
    • Our Goblins Are Different: 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. They are split between Defender tribes which react violently to human incursion, and Embracer tribes, which welcome humans.
    • Snake People: The naga, which appear as enormous creatures with snake-like lower bodies, humanoid torsos, many humanlike arms, and multiple snake heads. They're a particularly arrogant lot, viewing humans as children who need to be governed properly.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: President Walsh, the current US President, is a combination of President Corrupt and President Jerkass. In his brief scene with Harlequin in Fortress Frontier, he makes it clear that he believes that the corrupt, hypocritical, and brutal treatment of magic by the SOC is the only way to properly control magic users, and also essentially condemns FOB Frontier to being overrun by Goblins because a rescue attempt would result in a massive secrecy breach about FOB Frontier and the use of Probes, which would all but doom his reelection chances. On top of that, he issues a not-so-subtle order to Harlequin to execute Bookbinder if he doesn't cooperate. Needless to say, Harlequin takes all of this...poorly. And as of Breach Point, Walsh has been impeached and is on trial for his actions relating to Shadow Coven and FOB Frontier.
  • 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. Later on, she reveals that she can apply her Negramancy to the barriers between dimensions, allowing her to make gates from Earth to the Source.
    • 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.
    • Most Probes in general, as Whispering, Necromancy, and Elemental Conjuration effectively allow them to field entire armies at the drop of a hat.
  • 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.
    • Bookbinder's power is the ability to not simply Suppress someone's magic, but actually rip it out and bind it to an object.
  • 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.
  • Psycho for Hire: The Sculptor, a SOC Physiomancer who has no issues with using Rending to torture information out of people.
  • 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.
  • Reality Ensues: President Walsh, singlehandedly responsible for much of the illegal and corrupt actions of the SOC, is exposed at the end of Fortress Frontier. Following the usual President Evil trope and the dystopian nature of the setting, one would expect him to recover from this, to use his political clout and personal power to fight back, violently, and become the true Big Bad of the series. And in Breach Point, he ultimately ends up being immediately impeached for his criminal actions.
  • 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.
  • Retcon: The Caliphate mentioned in Control Point appears to have mysteriously vanished as of Breach Zone, with Harlequin even explicitly stating that the only country in the world with harsher laws against Latents than the US is Saudi Arabia.
  • Retired Badass: Stanley Britton, Oscar's father. Former Marine Force Recon, retired Colonel, and fully capable of surviving on his own for months in the Source without anything more than the clothes on his back.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: His Highness Vasuki-Kai, Naga envoy from the Naga Raajya, a prince of one of the major kingdoms in the Source, is an arrogant, pompous royal. But when Bookbinder needs to get the Raajya's help, he doesn't hesitate to guide the team across thousands of miles of harsh Source landscape, leaps into combat without an ounce of fear and wielding a whole lot of weaponry, and stands watch every night thanks to his unusual naga biology.
  • 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.
    • His viewpoint scenes in Fortress Frontier show Harlequin to be much more sympathetic than Britton's comparatively limited perspective. He does deeply care about his fellow Americans, especially the close-knit group of SOC Sorcerers, and when FOB Frontier is cut off, he comes close to risking his career trying to get help to them. He also starts to question the administration he served so loyally when he learns President Walsh is going to let Frontier rot until after the election because he doesn't want to risk the terrible press that a rescue operation involving a Portamancer would inflict on him.
      • In Breach Zone, his Freudian Excuse is detailed, finally fully humanizing him.
  • Spirit World: The Source, which is an alternate reality where all sorts of monsters come from.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To 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 - in Fortress Frontier, Scylla is revealed to be a Fortune 500 CEO the SOC snatched up as legally as a loose penny. 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.
    MykeCole: @PrinceJvstin #sffwrtcht Shadowrun was definitely an influence, as was Warhammer 40k. Surprised more people don’t bring that up. (Thu Feb 23 02:45:03 +0000 2012)
  • The Squad: Shadow Coven eventually develops into this.
  • 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.
    • Therese and Swift actively resist the Stockholm treatment, and while Swift never joins SOC, Therese eventually breaks down when the SOC convinces her to help treat wounded in the base's infirmary, which shows her just how much good she can do with her powers.
    • Downer is hit by this so hard that by the time of Fortress Frontier, she willingly goes back to the SOC when given the chance. And then it gets inverted in Breach Zone when her treatment while in SOC custody is rough enough that she outright punches Harlequin in the face when she meets him, and pretty much refuses to go back into their custody.
  • 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.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Introduced in Frontier Fortress.
  • 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.
  • Taking You with Me: One of the Native American rebels tries to use an explosive vest to kill several hostages when Britton and a rescue team come after them. Britton simply uses a gate to cut the cord connecting the detonator to the vest.
  • 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.
  • Thinking Up Portals: Britton's specialty.
  • Took a Level in Badass: In Fortress Frontier, Bookbinder goes from being a J1 admin officer who never fired a weapon in his life at the start of the book to pretty much being Patton reincarnated by the end, even managing to kill a Gahe with nothing but a spear and some stolen magic.
  • Torture Technician: The Sculptor's Physiomancy makes him an expert in this.
  • True Companions: A naga and its Bandhav form this sort of bond, with the Bandhav being a chosen human companion serving roughly somewhere between a child and a sibling. Harming a naga's Bandhav is considered as much an affront as harming the naga itself, and the naga will go to great lengths to protect the Bandhav, even shielding them with their own bodies.
  • The Unmasqued World: While magic is publically known, what's really going on (i.e. US military use of Probes, the nature of the Source, the existence of FOB Frontier) is kept hidden...up until Britton gates onto the White House lawn with the surviving SOC troops at the end of Control Point. While the government hurries to do damage control over this, the climax of Fortress Frontier involves Britton and Bookbinder gating all of FOB Frontier's troops - a division-sized force - plus a National Guard quick-reaction force directly in front of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in full public view, while fighting Goblins. Bookbinder notes that President Walsh will have a terrific time trying to explain all of that away.
  • Vicious Cycle: An underlying theme. Uncontrolled Latents cause widespread destruction through their wild and violent powers. Laws are passed to strictly and harshly regulate them to protect society. Selfers oppressed by these laws and terrified of what might be done to them run or fight back, necessitating harsher laws and more heavy-handed military policing to control them, which pushes the Selfers to greater acts of desperate violence to escape what is essentially a choice between slavery or execution....the process continues until someone like Britton chooses to break the system.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Good Physiomancers can manage this. Untrained one can become horrific blob monsters, while skilled ones can alter their appearance. Extremely capable ones, like the Sculptor, can imitate specific people.
  • Whatevermancy: All magical schools except Sentient Elemental Conjuration are named this way.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Britton gets this from everyone in Fortress Frontier. The first couple of chapters involving him deal almost entirely with him dealing with the reality of the aftermath of his rebellion against the SOC and the destruction of both part of FOB Frontier by releasing Scylla and the killing of Billy.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Scylla possesses tremendously dangerous and powerful Negramancy, and is completely batshit crazy too. She's so powerful that it takes multiple Latents to even attempt to Suppress her. And later on, she uses her powers to rot away the barriers between Earth and the Source itself.
  • You Are in Command Now: the basic plot of Fortress Frontier, for both Britton (leading a small group of rogue Probes on the run from SOC) and Bookbinder (an admin officer forced into command of FOB Frontier).
  • 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.
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alternative title(s): Shadow Ops
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