Whoever wrote the cover copy of Myke Cole’s Gemini Cell (the fourth in his “Shadow Ops” series, and its precursor) want us to believe it is a military sci-fi novel, and it’s easy to see why. It’s full of Navy SEAL tactics and discipline, military procedure and weaponry, terrorism and counterterrorism, special ops, and a whole lot of things getting blown up.
But at its heart, it’s a love story. Not a romance, but a true love story. The love of country from those who have chosen to give their lives for its welfare. The love between a band of brothers, thrown together and reforged as a fighting unit, committed to the operation and to each other. The love of a father for his young son. But especially, the love between two people that transcends separation, even death.
But the things-getting-blown-up parts are pretty good, too.
In Gemini Cell, we are introduced to Petty Officer First Class James Schweitzer, Navy SEAL and consummate warrior. His sniping ability is keen. He’s well liked by his commanders and the men in his squad. He has a four year old son and a pink-haired, tattooed artist wife who takes no crap and yet still exudes a strong femininity. They are deeply in love.
But in life, bad things still happen to good men, and Jim is attacked in his own home by some very bad guys out for revenge. After heartbreakingly watching his wife and son cut down, he himself is overpowered and a bullet to his head ends his life.
But not his story.
Jim is raised from the dead to become an operative of the top secret project, Gemini Cell, which uses the occult – magic – to partner his enhanced commando body with an ancient warrior spirit. Driven by rage and despair at the decimation of his family, Jim uses his fighting know how and military discipline, coupled with the jinn’s supernatural power, to strike against international threats from those who are also looking to exploit the resurgence of magic in our world.
Yet despite death and reanimation, Jim cannot be separated from his basic humanity, that which made him the man he was. Even as his body is driven to do unspeakably brutal things in the name of national security, and his mind is tortured by the memory of his wife and child, he chafes against being treated as a singular fighting machine and begins to question the purpose and motives of those who control his destiny.
I will admit that the whole “reanimated dead soldier as super soldier” had me worried at first; there’s so much that can go wrong with such a potentially trite concept. But I needn’t have worried. Gemini Cell is exceptionally written, gripping, exciting, and compelling. The military operations feel authentic, the emotional turmoil resonates without becoming cloying. The central love story, the one that anchors the book, is handled with sensitivity – just enough sentimentality to make it relatable without going over the top and stopping short of becoming maudlin. It’s not often that a love story can be this powerful without it being overwhelming, or dissolving into an unpalatable syrup.
But what impressed me the most in Gemini Cell was Jim’s struggle to come to grips with his reanimation, and the continuing conflict of sharing a consciousness – and a body – with a brutal, literally blood-thirsty entity with its own motivations and wiles. In lesser hands, this juxtaposition of modern soldier with ancient jinn might have become a boring litany of discipline versus slavering, but author Cole manages to give a depth to both entities as well as their connection, rather than simply pitting them one against the other, and blessedly without the cop-out of a coerced harmonizing. Folded in with this conflict is a riveting vision of the afterlife and the challenge of retaining a sliver of self when so much has been taken.
It’s not often that you get a hard core military thriller with fantasy overtones that integrates seamlessly within the story, as well as containing an emotional core that gives us a touchstone as anchor. But all of these come with Gemini Cell. Very highly recommended.