Myke Cole’s newest novel Javelin Rain is the direct sequel to Gemini Cell, picking up right after that novel’s final scene. In other words: please be aware that this review of Javelin Rain includes spoilers for Gemini Cell. If you haven’t read it yet, stop here and go read my review of Gemini Cell instead.
For people familiar with military terminology, even just Javelin Rain’s title may give a good indication of how the previous novel ended: The term “Javelin” denotes the seizure, theft, or loss of a national security asset with strategic impact. […] Code word “Rain” indicates a crisis of existential proportions represent a direct and pressing thread to the continued security of the nation.
Remember that line from Myke Cole’s original Shadow Ops trilogy, “magic is the new nuke”? Well, in Javelin Rain, there’s a loose nuke, and his name is Jim Schweitzer.
Schweitzer is the Navy SEAL who, after his death early in Gemini Cell, is brought back to life as part of a secretive government project that aims to harness the newly discovered magical powers appearing in the world. His body (monstrously restored) becomes the host to both his own mind and that of Ninip, an Akkadian warrior-king who’s been dead for millennia.
Having spent countless ages in the “soul storm” (Myke Cole’s rather nightmarish version of the afterlife) Ninip is basically a psychotic monster whose main driving desire is to bathe in the blood of the living. As Gemini Cell ends, Schweitzer has managed to banish Ninip back to the soul storm, escape from captivity, and even reunite with his wife and child.
But all’s not well. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. All’s really just about as horrible as it could be. I am not kidding: this is easily the grimmest novel Myke Cole has written so far, and that’s saying something after Gemini Cell.
For starters, Jim Schweitzer is still dead. He still looks like an inhuman nightmare zombie warrior with grey skin and silver orbs for eyes. His young son is traumatized to the point of catatonia after not only witnessing his father’s violent death but then seeing him come back to life as a monster.
Jim gradually comes to the painful realization that, even though he’s been reunited with his family, life can never go back to normal because, not to put too fine a point on it, he isn’t human anymore—not to mention the fact that the secretive government project that produced him has many more inhuman monster warriors at its disposal, and they’re not going to rest until Jim and his family have been hunted down.
That’s the first major plotline in Javelin Rain: Jim and family on the run, struggling to stay one step ahead of the chase. These chapters are the grimmest part of the novel, with the desperate fugitives struggling through the George Washington National Forest, trying to stay alive. It’s a miserable, violent battle for survival, made even more harrowing by the fresh emotional and psychological scars Jim and family are dealing with.
A second, parallel plot follows various players in the Gemini Cell project, starting with administrator Eldredge, who has to deal with several challenges at once. The main one is that his biggest success (the creation of Jim/Ninip) has suddenly turned into his biggest failure after Jim’s escape. He also has to cope with disturbing revelations about the mysterious Director of the project. Meanwhile, Eldredge’s Sorcerer Jawid is getting more and more depressed, both because of traumatic events in his past and because of his increasing sense of isolation.
Enter Dadou Alva, a Haitian sorcerer working with another Cell project. She grew up in abject poverty in Port-au-Prince before learning she is a vodou Sévité who can contact ghosts in the soul storm. I don’t want to go into too much detail here to avoid spoilers, but Dadou is a fascinating, complex character—hard to like but equally hard, at times, not to sympathize with.
Just like in the first Shadow Ops trilogy, Myke Cole continues to explore the double-edged nature of magic. On the one hand, it’s a great gift that gives people god-like powers and has obvious military potential. On the other, it seems to ruin the lives of almost every single person it touches.
I’d argue that it hasn’t been as bad for anyone as for poor Jim Schweitzer in this book. In the original trilogy, at least the magic users were only forcibly enlisted into a secret military program. They didn’t have their bodies turned into monstrous nightmares against their wills or their minds invaded by psychotic warrior ghosts. The sheer existential horror that Schweitzer has to cope with in these two novels is just harrowing. One of the most poignant scenes in Javelin Rain has Jim referring to himself as “Jinn Schweitzer”—“jinn” being the term Jawid uses for the souls he pulls from the void. This isn’t just being conscripted—it’s having your entire sense of self taken away.
Combine this with the brutal chase and horrible fights he and his family are subjected to—just the ordeal Jim’s young son has to go through will be uncomfortable to read for any parent—and you end up with what’s easily the darkest novel in the series so far.
However, it’s also one of Myke Cole’s best novels so far. In fact, part of what makes Javelin Rain so captivating is its unrelenting grimness. In Gemini Cell, Jim was on the offensive. He had an opponent and a motivation: defeating Ninip and rejoining his wife and child. In Javelin Rain, Jim’s losing the fight against despair. He’s just dodging and running, but there’s nothing to run to: his life will never be normal again, and his family will never be safe again. Javelin Rain is the dark middle book in the trilogy, where everything unravels in preparation for what’s promising to be a spectacular resolution in Siege Line, the forthcoming third and final book. It isn’t exactly light beach reading, but it’s great, vital speculative fiction.
Stefan Raets reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. You can find him on Twitter, and his website is Far Beyond Reality.