Sunday, March 30, 2014
I'm wrapping up my promise to review Myke Cole's Shadow Ops trilogy today with my review of the final book. Here's my review for
Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole
The Shadow Ops trilogy comes to a close as Scylla, the brutal Negramancer, attacks the Home Plane with an army of goblins, wyverns, rocs, and other creatures from the Source. Jan Thorsson, commonly known as Harlequin, ends up in charge of the defense forces on the battlefield that is New York City. Against worsening odds, Harlequin must struggle to fight against Scylla's attack and her vision of a world where Latents rule and the non-Latent are nothing more than chattel. But there's more lingering on Harlequin's mind than fighting for the system he's devoted himself to. He and Scylla have a past, and it's suddenly all coming to a crux as one confrontation lingers on the horizon.
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://mykecole.com/
Our Gifts, for Our Nation.
The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began “coming up Latent,” developing terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Those who Manifest must choose: become a sheepdog who protects the flock or a wolf who devours it…
In the wake of a bloody battle at For-ward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known.
In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.
When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to pre-vent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil…
When it comes right down to it, this is a story about the fight for equal rights. Human rights. This is a story that's been fought over and over in American history and is still ongoing in one way or another this very day. But what's amazing is that while it's a basic type of conflict, it's clear that Cole isn't writing for any particular agenda. This is a story about fighting for what is right, fighting for the right reasons, and fighting the right way. On every front (sure, we'll say the pun is intended) this is pulled off brilliantly.
There are three different stories at work here, all tied in with one character at the center of the web: Harlequin. The character you've been led to hate (at least I was) since the first book of the trilogy suddenly becomes the center of attention, and I marveled at how effortlessly Cole transformed my perception of this man.
As for the plot, this book is very much a politically-plotted story, but there is the amazing addition of a love story here. And throughout, this is an action-packed battle on every front. The politics are a battle, the romance is as well, adn then there's the actual, you know, fighting. Cole does an amazing job bringing all three plot threads along, breaking up the intense action with the "interlude" chapters that found the romantic history of the main characters. I remained in a state of awe throughout the story, watching as everything unfolded into a magnificent woven whole.
I don't think I can rave enough about this book and how perfectly it closes out the Shadow Ops trilogy. Cole set a high bar with Control Point, exceeded it with Fortress Frontier, and blows it out of the water (literally, at one point) with Breach Zone. His characterization is frighteningly true to life, the plots are solid, the events all moving toward the same end. He reads easily, showing a great balance between every element from dialogue to pacing, setting, characterization, everything. He doesn't give too much information, nothing that's unneeded, and he doesn't hold anything or anyone back. Moments will make you cheer or weep. I did both at one point or another.
In reference to the trilogy as a whole, I absolutely love and admire how Cole has placed different characters at the forefront of each of the three novels. Oscar Britton is clearly the center of Control Point, Alan Bookbinder of Fortress Frontier, and Harlequin of Breach Zone. The others are not off the map once "their story" is finished. I was greatly attached to Britton in reading Control Point, and at first I was wondering why I wasn't getting enough of him in Fortress Frontier. But then I realized it wasn't "his story" anymore, but that didn't mean he no longer existed. The passing of the protagonistic torch to Bookbinder was a brilliant move on Cole's part, and when I came to this conclusion of the trilogy, I was ready to address my relationship with Harlequin and bring the story to a close. Myke Cole can write, and he does it amazingly well.
Would I Recommend This Book? Oh, so very yes. Whatever your choice in fiction, I realy don't believe that anyone could be disappointed with reading this book and the entire trilogy. Don't like fantasy, no worries. It's not all fantasy. Don't care for military action as much? There's exploration and character relationships that will blow your mind. There's something here for everyone to latch on to, I believe, and I give this a glowing recommendation for anyone who knows how to read. Shadow Ops: Breach Zone gets a Limbic-dampening 5 out of 5 stars.
Oh, and the trilogy as a whole gets a Reawakened 5 out of 5 stars.
For more information on the author, visit http://mykecole.com/
Friday, March 21, 2014
Last week, I promised you three book reviews in three weeks. Here’s my review for book two of the Shadow Ops Trilogy by Myke Cole. I give you:
Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole
When Oscar Britton left the For-ward Oper-ating Base Frontier, he did so with a bang. Literally. Now on the run as America's Most Wanted #1, he's left the soldiers in The Source isolated, cut off from the Home Plane, with no communications and no way to resupply.
Colonel Alan Bookbinder is new to the FOB, having proven Latent but without any sign of what his magic is. Still, he's separated from his family and shipped to the FOB not long before Britton's escape, and now he's left in charge of the FOB. With attacks coming more frequently, he needs to find a way to get his people to safety, to resupply, and get himself home. And there's only one way to get back: a Portamancer.
He needs Oscar Britton.
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from mykecole.com
An Officer. An Out-cast. A Fight for Survival.
The Great Reawak-ening did not come qui-etly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop ter-ri-fying powers–summoning storms, raising the dead, and set-ting every-thing they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed…but not for everyone.
Colonel Alan Book-binder is an army bureau-crat whose worst war wound is a paper-cut. But after he develops mag-ical powers, he is torn from every-thing he knows and thrown onto the front-lines.
Drafted into the Super-nat-ural Oper-a-tions Corps in a new and dan-gerous world, Book-binder finds him-self in com-mand of For-ward Oper-ating Base Frontier–cut off, sur-rounded by mon-sters, and on the brink of being overrun.
Now, he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Fron-tier out of hell, even if the one hope of sal-va-tion lies in teaming up with the man whose own mag-ical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place–Oscar Britton, public enemy number one…
Like it's predecessor, Fortress Frontier is not a particularly far cry from reality. The government is still heavily regulating the use of magic, and when things happen, things happen quickly. When Bookbinder reports in as Latent, he's scooped up and shot off to the FOB so fast it makes your head spin. Like with Control Point, there's a ton of great material here, pure reality in how people would adapt to life in an alternate magical dimension, how they relate to and interact with one another, and it's just all very real and current.
In keeping with the style of Control Point, there's plenty of military jargon, action, and general badassery in Fortress Frontier. He puts his characters into some serious danger, not afraid to really threaten them, and uses every tool at his disposal to get them back out again. This is true craftsmanship. It's always pleasing to me to se a hopeless situation solved with something that's right in front of you. Or inside you, or whatever.
I was infinitely more comfortable with the military jargon, having already had my introductory course in Control Point. There's just enough of this stuff to make the book seem real, but little enough that I didn't get bogged down in it. It's not as easy to flip to the glossary in the back when reading on a kindle as if I were reading a paper book.
We see more of the different races in the Source this time around, expanding wonderfully on the culture and the world Cole has built for himself. We see more than the Goblins and the Mountain Gods this time. Most notably, we explore the Naga, and this made me unbelievably happy. That's one race of fantastical creatures that I have almost never come across in literature-- only video games, and then only barely. To see a race like them fleshed out and playing a nice-sized role in the action made me giddy.
One thing that I need to comment on is how seamlessly he worked the two main plot arcs-- Britton's and Bookbinder's-- alongside one another. Since this novel started with Bookbinder, I would have thought I would immediately miss Britton. I was wrong. He didn't cross my mind until I finally came across a chapter in his story arc. And when I was with Britton, I forgot all about Bookbinder. Normally, in situations like this, I just want to follow the arc of my favorite character. I won't lie-- I like Bookbinder better than Britton (not by much, but I do) so I was completely fascinated with his arc. But when I was reading Britton, that was good stuff, too, and it enthralled me completely. This is no mean feat, balancing things like this.
Like with the previous book, there was an inconsistency with chapter length in Fortress Frontier, but it didn't bother me as much. I don't know if that was because I'd come to expect it from the previous book, if the issue was less pronounced this time around (I don't think it was), or if I was just too engrossed in the action to care (much more likely).
I've read a lot of trilogies and series...es, and it's a general rule that the second book is, at least in my haughty opinion, the least engaging of the series, no matter the length. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is my least favorite of the series. I'm not a fan of The Two Towers. Etc. Etc.
I freaking LOVED this book. Cole set the bar for himself pretty high with Control Point. He exceeded it with Fortress Frontier. My jaw dropped at least three times reading this, usually followed by some exclamation of surprise, giddiness, bouncing like a little schoolgirl, and general glee. There were some great surprises here, and it's more than worth the read.
Would I Recommend This Book? Oh my gosh, yes. Very yes. I can't say yes to this enough. There was so much greatness in this book that I can't describe it all. I don't know how Myke Cole did it! I was a little upset early on that I wasn't going to see much of my favorite character from Control Point (Marty), but I was able to immediately latch onto Bookbinder. I would follow that man to hell and back. Twice. I give Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier a first on my blog, a well-earned, salute-warranting 5 out of 5 stars.
For more information on the author, visit mykecole.com
Check things out next week for my review of book 3, Shadow Ops: Breach Zone.
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Back in January, I featured several reviews by author Scott Sigler in preparation for the release of his book, Pandemic. Well, I failed to bring to your attention that about that same time, another awesome author was releasing the third book of his trilogy. I'm talking about the amazing Myke Cole, author of the Shadow Ops series. I could have spent February featuring the reviews for books one and two of the series, but I thought I'd wait until I had read the new book so I could post all three reviews at once.
Now is that time.
For these last three weekends in March, I will be posting my reviews for the three books of the Shadow Ops trilogy by Myke Cole. For today, I give you:
Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole
Oscar Britton, army pilot, has just come up Latent, magical power manifesting in him without warning. And worse, his abilities are from a prohibited school of magic. But as luck would have it, he won't be immediately put to death, so long as he puts his newfound abilities to use as a government contractor. Suddenly thrust onto the front of a war he didn't know we were fighting, Oscar needs to learn to control his magic.
But does he agree that the government is using him for the right reasons?
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from mykecole.com
Army Officer. Fugitive. Sorcerer.
Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with magical talents. Untrained and panicked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set everything they touch ablaze.
Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieutenant attached to the military’s Supernatural Operations Corps, his mission is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly manifests a rare and prohibited magical power, transforming him overnight from government agent to public enemy number one.
The SOC knows how to handle this kind of situation: hunt him down–and take him out. Driven into an underground shadow world, Britton is about to learn that magic has changed all the rules he’s ever known, and that his life isn’t the only thing he’s fighting for.
This is yet another book that is set in the now and is completely believable. With all the mention of conspiracies and government secrets, who could be surprised if it turns out the military is employing sorcerers to do dirty work in both the real world and a parallel magical dimension we can't easily get to? Who really knows what the government and military are up to? Lord knows if magic did just start popping up in the population, it would be regulated to the extreme very quickly. Cole has hit on some serious paydirt in subject matter here, and he milks it for all it's worth. Well done!
As someone with no military background (I did do a semester of JROTC in high school though; that's got to count for something) and whose real military knowledge comes from the media and one trip to a Marine base with a friend, I have to say Cole portrays the military atmosphere and lifestyle in a way that the layman can easily understand. Things felt real enough with all the abbreviations, but not so overly complicated that I couldn't follow what was going on. There's a certain sort of fluency the reader gets when immersed in the story here, easily integrating terms like carbine and SOC and being drawn into the world. Well done there.
From the get-go, the characters are highly believable and completely human. It's almost terrifying how well Cole does this. If I didn't know better, I would think he knew Oscar Britton, our main character, because the man is so completely real it's difficult to think of him as just a novel protagonist. And it's not just him. Every character you come across, from the converted zealot Downer to the Goblin Marty (I'm not going to lie, he's my favorite character) are 100% believable. Yes, even the non-human Goblins are easy to believe in.
My only real complaint with style here would be the inconsistency with chapter length. For the story itself, it makes sense, but (reading this on my kindle), one of the first things I do when I start a new chapter is look at the "minutes left in chapter" heading so I know if I'll have time to get through it on my coffee break or whatever. Some chapters from the onset had a 10 or 11-minute time at my reading speed. No problem. But there were a couple chapters (the first one included) that had a 28-30-minute reading time. Personally, I would have liked a little more evenness in chapter length, because those outliers were a little hard to get through in one sitting (just because most of my reading time is during coffee breaks or when I'm not onstage in play rehearsal). It's just personal preference, but I would have preferred the chapters to match that shorter length. Fortunately, the longer chapters did have scene breaks, though they were not consistent, so it could be hard to find a good stopping point. These were usually the action chapters, and you don't want to put the book down, so it is sort of a double-edged sword. I don't really know how to address that sort of issue. Separating the chapters would have paused the action in a bad way, but the lengths could get a little daunting.
Overall, HOLY COW was this a good book! I've never seen anything like this before. Military fantasy. Cole has a winning genre niche here, and he pulls it off with the experience and creativity only an insane military man could. It's obvious he's writing what he knows and that he's really put a lot of thought, study, and research into how he puts out the work.
The only issue I have with the story itself is that I was constantly looking for the antagonist. Britton obviously has issues with how his life turns after he comes up Latent, and there are a few characters that he clashes with, but I never really saw any true personalization of what he was fighting against. To be honest, I didn't really notice I was feeling that lack until about halfway or so through the novel, but once I noticed it, I got a sense of wandering up until that point and continued to feel that lost sensation until the climax of the book. True, much of the conflict here was internal for Britton himself, and in real life (which this is of course imitating) there really aren't clear bad guys, so to speak, but it still left me with a feeling of being imbalanced. I did eventually project that need for an antagonist onto one of the characters, Fitzy, but that left me unsatisfied. Don't get me wrong, the resolution of the clashing between Britton and Fitzy was great, but I still miss having someone I can paint a solid target on. Hopefully, I will get a little more footing on that when I read the next book in the series, Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier. I am very much looking forward to continuing the story here despite any dissatisfaction. No matter what, this is a great read and is well worth the time.
Would I Recommend This Book? Highly. This was an action-packed, intelligent, exciting read that blends military action with fantasy so well that I wanted desperately for it to be real just because it was cool. And it doesn't hurt that it's well written. I give a Manifested 4.5 of 5 stars. I do want to say that this book was damn near perfect, but I am very stingy with the full-on 5's. There was at least one typo in the ebook version, and just that little bit about me not really being able to identify a true personification of an antagonist kept it from being a 5. But darn close!
For more information on the author, visit mykecole.com
Sunday, March 9, 2014
People haven’t really asked me this question much, but I know it will happen sooner or later. In listening to other writers, I’ve learned that one of the most commonly asked questions for writers is:
How do you (or how can I) find time to write?
Oh, man, is this a big question. But… in some ways, it’s actually a very small question at the same time. It sounds much more complicated than it is, especially when you’re living in the modern world, where there never seems to be enough time. Kind of makes you wish you lived in Star Trek, where they function on a 26-hour day, right? Maybe then you’d have more time to write, because you’d have a whole two extra hours to your day. Except, in reality, adding more hours to the day would not work.
I want to make a couple analogies here about why having longer days wouldn’t help you write. In my experience, and keep in mind that this is just me and not a law for everyone, there is never enough space in my house. It seems that no matter what I do, I don’t have enough room for all my stuff. I’m not a packrat, not in the extreme sense anyway, but I always seem to expand my crap to fill my living space. When I was in college and lived in a dorm room, that room was full of junk. Even when everything was in its proper place, every flat surface— shelves, desk, nightstand, etc.— had stuff on it. When I got an apartment, my stuff seemed to magically multiply to fill every space yet again. Now, outside an apartment and in a house, I still don’t have enough space.
Similarly, my expenses always seem to expand to fill my paycheck. Oh, I got a raise this year! You would think that the extra little bit from each paycheck could go straight into savings, right? That’s funny. Life seems, for many people, not to work that way. You get a raise? Well, your car just broke down and now you need to take on a car loan to get a new one. Bye, extra money. Or, you decided to get that huge flatscreen TV you’ve been wanting, and now you can afford to. There goes those extra funds!
The point I’m trying to make is that if you’re not careful, life will grow to consume all your resources. So if the world suddenly changed to a 26-hour day instead of 24, SOMETHING would come along to take up those extra 2 hours every day. Maybe you’ll get more sleep, or a new exercise fad will come along and sweep you with it, and suddenly you’re spending that extra time playing badminton or something. No magical solution is going to present itself to you and suddenly give you time to write.
You have to make the time to do it.
It’s true what they say: if something is important to you, you will find a way to make it happen. If it’s not important, you’ll make an excuse. I’ve always been the type to do things in big chunks rather than chipping away at things. If I start something, I want to finish it in one sitting and be done with it. So how the heck am I a writer? It takes such huge amounts of time to finish a project! Honestly, for years, I was going about it the wrong way. I was under the impression that if I wanted to make any headway on writing, I needed a few hours of quiet and solitude to blast out a few thousand words. But how often did I get times like that? Maybe once a month or so. When NaNoWriMo came along, I went into recluse mode (yes, the stereotypical secluded, solitary, hermit-like (possibly drunk) writer image). My best friend had to call or text me every few hours to make sure I ate and went to the bathroom regularly. But you can’t live like that. Well, I can’t.
I’ve talked about the Magic Spreadsheet before (or if I haven’t, I’ve already written a post about it and just haven’t posted it yet. There’s something for you to look forward to) and I’m telling you again that it changed my life. If I get one time a month to sit and write 3000 words, hey, that’s not bad. I’ll write 36,000 words in a year. But if I take 15 minutes a day (you can find 15 minutes, can’t you, right before bed, or something?) and write 250 words— and do this EVERY DAY— then guess what. You’ll write about 7500 words a month, and that will end up being 91250 words a year. 91250! That’s a whole freaking novel! And all you did was take FIFTEEN MINUTES every day.
It surprised me that I didn’t have to get “into the zone” to write for 15 minutes. At first, it was hard, but I realized that once I was actually working on the project every day and not just once a month, it’s much easier to keep in that mindset of my story, and I can get into writing mode much easier. I can sit down, whip out some words, and holy crap, I’m closer to finishing, and all I did was sit at my computer for a few minutes before bedtime. More often than not, I would get on a roll and do more words, but then again, I write pretty quickly when it comes right down to it. I’ve been working on this blog post for about 20 minutes, and I’m nearly 1000 words in. Some of you don’t write that quickly, and that’s fine. I’m just telling you what works for me, and you can tweak things to work with your life and your writing style and speed.
(At the time I originally wrote this blog post) I’d been writing every day for about four months now, and in that time, I’d actually popped out almost 200,000 words (again, mostly because I’m a fast writer). I’ve found that writing breeds more writing. I don’t want to stop after 250 words. I want to keep going. Most days, I’ll realize I’ve turned that fifteen minutes into an hour and just did 1000+ words. In 4 months, I’ve finished the first draft of a novel, a 2nd draft of another novel, at least 10 short stories, about eight book reviews, maybe half a dozen blog posts, and a few outlines for projects I’m going to write. I am getting work done!
It’s about prioritizing. It’s frightening how much time I wasted before I started making a point of writing for at least 15 minutes every day. That’s not to say that I don’t waste time now. Sometimes, you need to waste time, just for your own mental health. It’s that whole “All work and no play” thing. I still spend time with my friends, I enjoy sleep (for now), and I work a full-time job with a 45-minute commute one-way. Want to know what my writing/daily routine looks like these days?
Out of bed at 4:50
Arrive at work at 6 (I don’t actually start work until 7:30)
6-7 WRITE (I’ll explain this in just a minute)
Arrive home 5:20 (or so)
Watch TV/hang with best friend and kids/play games/maybe write After dinner-bedtime
BEDTIME (anywhere from 9p.m. to 11:30 p.m. depending on what is going on)
So yes, I actually managed to find an hour every day to write. I was always the type to get to work early to avoid morning traffic and get a good parking spot. Used to be I’d take that dead time and go to the gym or read or whatever. But I realized I was missing out on some prime real estate here. I now drag my laptop with me every day so I can write for an hour. But what about that morning that used to be my gym time? Fitness is important too, right?
I did try splitting that pre-work hour between both, but I was getting short shrift. I couldn’t fit a good workout in with good writing time, not really. I’d try to make up more writing time at lunch, but it just didn’t seem to work. I write better in the mornings. And… oddly enough, I learned that I exercise better in the afternoons. And I get an hour lunch… and I’m lucky that my workplace has a gym. So at least half of my lunch break instead goes to the gym, and then I actually eat my lunch and read. So I’m still doing everything I was doing before, before work and on lunch, but now I’m actually able to devote more time to each activity and get some quality out of them. I found an hour to write in my PRIME writing time of day, I get at least a 30-minute workout instead of trying to cram exercise into 10-15 minutes, and I’m still getting time to read every day. And it’s not taking up valuable family/friend time in the evening.
Of course, not everyone has the same sort of day I do. But don’t be afraid to move things around. I had to give up slacking off at lunch and playing computer games in order to write. But that’s just prioritizing. What’s more important to you: writing or playing games?
I’m not going to claim that this sort of schedule will work for everyone. Your job is, no doubt, far different from mine. Not everyone writes best in the morning. I know that there are a lot of people out there who write very effectively during their lunch breaks, whether they’re half an hour or a full hour. Some people actually write out their work freehand or text writing to themselves on their phones (yes, there are people that do this, and kudos to them!). The big point I’m trying to make here is that if you want to find the time to write, you have to actually look for it. The world isn’t going to halt for you so you can sit down and do it. A lot of writers I know don’t sleep much. Some are stay-at-home or work-from-home parents and are lucky enough to get in good writing sessions when their kids are napping, at school or playing on their own. What it boils down to is the fact that you already have the time to write. It may just be hiding behind other things. If writing is important to you, you will find the time to do it. Yes, it involves sacrifice, but again, it boils down to how much you want to do this. If your spouse/children are supportive and can give you half an hour in the evening to yourself, awesome! If your home life just cannot allow such a thing, try eking in a few shorter writing spurts when the opportunity presents itself. I promise, it gets easier.
And I promise, you’ll be amazed how much you can get done in short spurts.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Henry’s heart raced at the thought of becoming Cupid. It was graduation day, and today he may well get the enchanted bow and arrows that would create love. Anyone struck with those arrows would immediately gain great emotional attachment toward whomever he or she was gazing. Today was going to be a great day. If he was the one chosen, at least. There were a dozen other students who had been studying under Cupid for the last three hundred years. Only one of them would be selected to be Cupid’s replacement and earn a new name. Godhood would come with the bow. Whoever was chosen would become Cupid Two, the new deity of desire, erotic love, affection, and attraction. Henry fervently hoped it would be him. The pantheon was gathered high on their mountain, looking on with approval as Cupid One gave a speech about what it meant to be the father of desire. The potential Cupids paid rapt attention, fidgeting as they waited for the announcement that would change not only one of their lives, but his whole existence. That grand announcement was coming. Henry was just as restless as the others. Would he be the one to become Cupid Two?
"And with that, the moment you have all been waiting for!" Cupid One announced, his wings fluttering with excitement. He was no longer the eternal child that the old books and stories described him to be. The child-god had grown old, his wings gone from white to grey. His hair matched, and his eyebrow had thickened and were drooping. A beard reached down to his knees, and his back was bent. Rheumy eyes looked over the thirteen students he'd been teaching for the last three centuries. He had aged so gradually over those decades that it had been hard to notice how much he had been aging, but now the memory of first meeting the god returned to him, and the difference was plain. Henry fancied that the old fellow’s eyes settled on him for a moment longer than any of the others. He crossed his fingers behind his own wings, hoping, hoping. His feathers fluttered. He’d been given those wings after the first hundred years of training had passed. Oh, how he loved to preen them. And he loved flying about, invisible to the people below, of course.
"I am pleased to pass on my famous bow and arrows to..." Cupid One drew in a breath and paused. All the other people and gods present leaned forward, balancing on their tiptoes or perching on the edges of their seats. They all held their breaths, waiting. Not that the gods needed to breathe, really, but sometimes it made the tension that much more delectable. Cupid One smiled and finished his sentence. Cheers and applause filled the air as the new Cupid Two ran up to Cupid One to receive his new weapons of affection.
Henry's heart fell. Of course, it would be Isaiah who was chosen. Perfect, brown-nosing Isaiah, the best in the class. Everyone liked him, he never did anything wrong, and he was handsome. Smart, too. Henry kicked at the clouds beneath his feet, bringing up a little poof of moisture. With the other rejected students, he filed forward to congratulate Isaiah— or as he was to always be called now, Cupid Two.
Jealousy consumed Henry. Even if he hadn’t been chosen to be Cupid One’s replacement, he could still help Cupid Two. He could… hold his quiver, or something. But he couldn’t get near it. Cupid Two was protective of his new weapons, and for fifty years, he never let the out of his sight. But Henry couldn’t just give up his dream. He would find a way to bring desire to people, as he’d wanted to do for decades.
Being a human— even if he was a human who had been gifted with wings and was therefore not really just a human- Henry needed sleep. The gods didn't; they could keep going forever. A thought struck Henry. Cupid Two might not need sleep, but he didn't have eyes on every part of him. He couldn't see everything around all the time. Sure, he would cling to that bow and arrows for centuries more, enjoying the excitement of a new toy, but he would put them down sometime. All Henry really needed was one arrow. With that, he could still be a new Cupid. He could do what he was born to do.
His chance to steal an arrow came more quickly and in a different way than he thought. The arrows disappeared once they struck someone and imparted their desire, but Cupid Two wasn't a perfect shot. Even the most perfect archer will miss a shot every now and then. An arrow that didn't hit a living target wouldn't disappear immediately. All Henry had to do was wait for Cupid Two to miss, dart down, and take the errant arrow for himself.
He did so one morning, diving to Earth somewhere in North America. Henry didn’t know who Cupid Two had been aiming at or why, but he watched the projectile fly and saw the moment it whizzed past its target without touching. Henry dove to earth and spent the better part of a dozen years searching through a heavily-forested area, looking for the arrow Cupid Two had discharged. He scanned the foliage fervently. Would the arrow die before he found it? Early in the thirteenth year of his search, white feathers caught his attention, and he dove for them. A very unhappy bird was attached to those feathers and attacked him with surprising anger and strength. Wings flapped in his face, small talons scratched at his face, drawing blood. He managed to escape, only to hear other sounds amid the trees. Once the flapping of wings was gone, he could make out the tramping of feet. Many feet. There were lots of people coming!
Henry hid himself in the bushes and watched as an army stomped by, picking their way through the trees and other plant life. They were decked out in uniforms, each man looking tired and haunted. Were these men on their way to battle, or from it? War was something Henry just didn't understand. What could drive men to kill each other en masse like that? So many of those soldiers really couldn't have any hatred for their enemies. Why did they fight when it was their rulers or governors that had the quarrel?
The army was well out of sight when he happened to look down. There, at his feet, was the stray arrow he'd been searching for. He'd very nearly stepped on it. He knew for certain it was a Cupid's arrow because the arrowhead was shaped like a heart and the shaft was red. Smiling broadly and clutching his prize to him, he spread his wings and rose out of the trees.
A battlefield spread before his eyes. The forest was on the edge of a great plain, and the plain itself was full of soldiers. Two armies stood facing each other, weapons at the ready to attack once given the command. Henry stared down at them, flapping his wings to keep his height. The men below spread out for hundreds of feet. They had guns, some had curved swords, and he even saw cannons. They were going to kill each other! A lot of these men were going to die! It would start any moment now.
Henry looked down at the arrow in his hand. He couldn't end this, couldn't stop them from destroying one another. He only had one arrow, and a stolen one at that! He had no bow to shoot it! He couldn't save lives with this! But how could he allow all those men to die? He had to at least try something, didn’t he? The general in charge of one of the armies raised his sword. It was about to start! Henry had to do something!
Taking a deep breath to steel himself, he zoomed down toward the general. No one could see him; that was one of the perks of being a student of the gods. At least he was undetectable by regular humans. Arm shaking, he extended the tip of his arrow toward the general's shoulder.
And he stopped himself. If he used the arrow on the general, the arrow would disappear. It would be used up and gone. This general might call off his part of the fight, but what about the other general? Henry didn't have the time to find another arrow or beg for one, and he wasn't about to turn this battle into a one-sided slaughter. There had to be another way.
That was when he saw the cannons. A uniformed soldier had just lifted a heavy cannonball to load one of the weapons. Both armies had the cannons. That gave Henry an idea. He flitted over and touched the tip of the arrow to the cannonball just before it was shoved into the weapon. The sphere of heavy metal flashed red, pink, and then white for a split second, then was back to being dull and blackish-grey. He didn't remain to watch the soldier load the ball, but flew over the tense field to the center cannon of the other army. He used the arrow on a cannonball there too, and then rose into the air, crossing his fingers again and hoping this would work. If it did, he might actually manage to stop this war.
The general lowered his sword and pointed it at the enemy army, shouting something Henry couldn't hear. His shout was echoed by the yells of his soldiers, and then the other army began screaming and everything erupted into chaos. The soldiers ran or rode horses toward their enemies, waving blades and brandishing guns. There was a great clang and crash as the front lines rammed into one another, and the battle had begun. Henry’s eyes welled up with tears at the sight.
At almost the same moment, the cannons of both armies fired. Booms sounded in rapid succession, and the cannonballs were in the air. They flew past one another and landed among the fighting men, kicking up dirt and dust, breaking weapons apart, and showering the men with the shattered remains of the cannonballs themselves. But the shrapnel did no damage to flesh, only to ground, grass, and weapons. The soldiers couldn't see any more than black pieces of metal raining down on them, but Henry saw the pink and red dust that the gave the arrows their power as it spewed from the cannonballs. It flew up like a cloud and settled over the battlefield, covering the entire mass of soldiers. The officers and the generals were left untouched, though. The cloud simply did not extend that far, even with the wind that suddenly blew over the plain.
Henry held his breath. The soldiers stopped running at each other, ceased waving and aiming their weapons at one another, and just stared. A thousand pairs of eyes went wide, and guns and other tools of death and destruction fell to the grass. The wind blew loudly, ruffling clothes and the hair sticking out from underneath caps. For the longest time, not a soul moved. Henry finally had to let out the breath he'd been holding, and still no one below him had so much as twitched a muscle. The two generals looked just as stunned as the soldiers, even though the cloud hadn't touched them. It was one of the officers that finally broke the silence.
"What are you doing? Destroy them!" the man shouted, waving the flag he was holding. The man had no weapons, and he had no one's attention, either. His voice drifted away on a final gust of wind, and perfect calm settled on the battlefield.
A few seconds later, a strange chaos broke loose. The soldiers regained their presence and raced toward one another, only this time with arms outstretched. Bodies clashed and hung onto one another, and the attack began. Only, this was no assault of gunfire, blood and gore. The attack erupted in kisses and groping. Uniforms were torn from soldiers by their enemies, and the battlefield was soon full of the sounds of moans and proclamations of love and adoration, affection and desire. Everything degenerated from there.
The unenchanted generals and their officers went bug-eyed. The glorious battle they had both planned and strategized for had been ruined. Surely, no man could have predicted this. Henry felt a burst of pride when he saw for certain that no one would die today. He left the armies to their orgy— and the officers to their bewilderment— and flew back to the realm of the gods. On the way, he tucked the arrow into the sash tied around his waist.
Things weren't quite as great when he reached the godly realm. It had been over a decade since he was here, but his absence had not gone unnoticed. Cupid Two, Mars, and a dozen other gods and goddesses were there, arms crossed and faces scowling, when he first set foot on the great cloud. Mars in particular had a frightening fury in his eyes that made them glow like coals. Cupid Two was tapping his foot. His gaze went straight to the arrow in Henry's sash. He held out his hand. "Give me."
Henry immediately sulked. Slowly, he pulled the arrow from his waistband and held it out to Cupid Two. The love god snatched it away, inspected it for a long while, then snapped it in two. "Do you realize what you just did?" Cupid Two demanded.
"I... I stopped hundreds of men from being killed," he replied, his voice small.
"You stole from me!" Mars thundered, face turning crimson. Beads of sweat popped out all over the god's forehead, making him resemble a bubbling volcano.
"It was just one battle," Henry said defensively. "There will be others—"
"Not for them there won't! You've robbed me of a thousand gallons of blood, years of strife and death, war cries, defeats, and glorious victories! You've ended that war!"
Henry perked up a little at that. He'd actually stopped an entire war? He’d only been trying to prevent a battle. None of the other faces looked near as pleased with his actions.
"Now, Mars," Jupiter's voice broke in. "The peace will only last for a generation. Those men won't have any children to pass the ideals of peace and love on to." He glanced sideways at Henry as he said this. "They'll be too entranced by their new partners' flesh. The desire and attraction from that blast will last a generation, but only until the next group of young men grow up. The same offenses will be there in twenty years, when the children in those areas grow older. The war will resume then and will likely be even bloodier for the delay. You'll have your gore and your deaths."
A vengeful glint sparkled in Mars's eyes. "No. I won't," he said, grinning evilly. "I think it best that I retire." Strutting up to Henry, he thrust a great sword into his hands and placed a helmet on his head. "Congratulations. I’ve decided to forgo the centuries of training and simply appoint a replacement for myself. You may call yourself Mars Two, beginning immediately. You can revel in the blood that will be spilled in twenty years." He started walking off, leaving the other gods standing there, grinning at Mars Two. For himself, Henry just stood rooted in place, looking baffled at the sword in his hands. "Oh, by the way," Mars One said, turning back to look over his shoulder, "There are a couple hundred thousand people in Europe and Asia that are going to slaughter each other in the next eight years. You might want to look into that."