Gemini Cell by Myke Cole is a prequel to his previously published Shadow Ops trilogy. I have a lot of love for that trilogy, but unfortunately for me that love did not transfer across to the new book. I have read other reviews around the internet and from what I can tell my dislike of the book puts me in a minority of about one, but I can only tell you how I felt reading the book. That feeling was bored.
The story follows Jim Schweitzer, a Navy SEAL who is a highly proficient and seasoned sniper, who happens to be very much alive at the start of the book. That doesn't last very long as Schweitzer is killed at home by an unidentified force who stormed his home for reasons that are never explained but heavily alluded to. From here the story branches, with one thread following Schweitzer's magical resurrection and transformation into undead super soldier, and the other thread following Schweitzer's family and friends who have to deal with the fallout of losing someone close to them. It is a very interesting premise, and exactly the type of story I like to read.
I suppose I should get the good stuff out of the way first. Cole has a very good writing style; he makes his stories easy to read while at the same time conveying complex themes and ideas. His handle of action set pieces is second only to Brandon Sanderson, though you could easily make an argument for why his action is better than Sanderson's action. And the pace of the book is just right, fast enough that you could almost call it a thriller, but not so fast that you don’t have time to smell the roses. Cole is clearly a capable writer, of that I have no doubt.
The first problem I had is Cole's apparent transition from writing military realism to military idealism. I have served for over 10 years now, and a hallmark of the first trilogy was that his characters and the organisations they worked for felt so real, and that they reflected what I have experienced in reality. In Gemini Cell, the seasoned Navy SEALs feel like they have come straight from Uncle Sam's recruiting campaign, thinking only about how amazing it is to serve, and not being able to imagine a life outside of the military. I have met people like this before, and they were either at recruit school or they were on their first posting out of recruit school. For a team of professionals as seasoned as we are lead to believe, there was a distinct lack of realistic traits that you see in military teams, such as cynicism, snark, and the type of bond where you say so much by saying nothing at all. From my perspective, Gemini Cell was a book that made use of every single military and team cliché going around, and I may have strained a muscle or two from rolling my eyes too much.
The second problem I had was with the romance... well I guess you wouldn't call it romance but maybe the desire for a sexual relationship. Cole makes use of the cliché where a military man "cares" for his fallen comrade's wife. It felt tacky, out of place, unearned, and was the most cringe worthy aspect of the book. Schweitzer's wife Sarah is a great character most of the time, so maybe her character flaw is to be a really inconsistent and poor decision maker, but to me the whole thing felt overly melodramatic, designed to invoke the immortal words "Oh no she didn't!"
The final problem I had was that the book was so boring in between all the cool action scenes. The magic is more vague and convoluted than ever, the philosophising is kind of empty and not backed up by the actions of the characters, and when they aren't fighting they are spending most of their time sitting around mulling over existential crises. Cole has touted this book as being the one about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I never got that impression reading the book. Maybe it was too subtle for me, or maybe I missed it when I rolled my eyes after reading yet another cliché for the umpteenth time.
Gemini Cell is a disappointment for me because I loved the Shadow Ops series so much. I wanted to like this book, I really wanted to like this book, but it just wouldn't work for me. There is a disconnect somewhere here, and maybe I'm just missing something. All around the internet people are falling over themselves to see who can gush about this book the most, and I expected to be one of them. I'm still going to read whatever Cole puts out next, he has more than earned that from me, but I think I will wade a little more cautiously into the next book.
Review by Ryan Lawler
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