Syria, in the Middle East, is full of turmoil. Violence, political chaos, powers outside the region meddling and backing various factions and individuals, only enflaming and extending the conflict. The government there is on the edge of collapse, as outside agencies and internal struggles threaten to destroy Syria entirely. Good people trapped in a horrible situation that there seems no way out of, and everything even the United States tries to do just makes it all worse.
A novel detailing the modern-day tragedy there? Sadly, no.
The year is 1949, and we are in the midst of an alternate history, a history where the end of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War was marked by the emergence of paranormally gifted individuals, individuals who are scooped up by the espionage apparatuses of the United States and the Soviet Union, as the game of espionage takes a fantastic turn.
MJ-12: Shadows is a paranormal Cold War thriller novel from Mike Martinez, the sequel to MJ-12: Inception.
The previous novel, MJ-12: Inception, set up our premise, with mysterious spheres found at the end of the Second World War leading to the imbuement or exaltation of certain individuals throughout the world with a variety of paranormal powers. Those individuals, called Variants, underwent a journey to being recruited, sometimes rather heavy handedly, into a secret government agency and trained to explore their powers, and be on the front lines of the nascent Cold War. That novel culminated with an amazing set piece running escape and fight behind the Iron Curtain, an excellent capstone that paid off everything the author built.
Now, in MJ-12: Shadows, Martinez continues the story of the program, with new recruits, and new discoveries and investigations of the how and why the event occurred, and what it all means. This is put into the framework, as mentioned above, of the complicated and tragic political situation of the March 1949 Syrian coup d’état. This was a piece of history I had not known anything about, and through the lens of the Majestic-12 program and its participants being caught within it, Martinez brings real history to life. I later learned through my own reading that he had not changed events significantly, that the series of events, as complicated and fantastic as they were, did not need any change.
Martinez does an excellent job balancing time and attention for the previous characters we have met, like Cal, who can heal, or harm, at a touch, with new agents-in-training, like Julia, who can phase through solid objects (and had been using that ability as a thief before being scooped up by Majestic), and Rick Yamato, who has peculiar abilities with electricity. Tying into the prejudices and problems and issues of the 20th century, Rick’s prior experience with being one of the Japanese Americans interned during World War II makes his participation in Majestic and being confined to an isolated army base for training a parallel that Martinez is very willing to make.
The action beats of the novel, like its predecessor, meld well with the character and historical detail that Martinez brings to the table. Once again, if you wondered what you’d get if you melded Cold War spy skullduggery with the X-men, the MJ-12 series is definitely something you should be reading, yesterday. The capstone set piece action of this novel takes place at a historically significant moment in history, deep within the Soviet Union’s borders. Martinez mixes character motivations and actions, the historical event, and of course the high powered Variants action in a glorious meld. He’s not afraid, either, to raise the stakes, and, yes, have agents pay the ultimate price. It’s a hard world,and not everyone survives a War, even a Cold one.
With MJ-12: Shadows, the author continues to maintain the balance of paranormal action, espionage thriller, and an eye on looking at real life events and problems in our history through the lens of his paranormal alternate. In many ways, the series is working like a secret alternate history of the Cold War, since the ground base historical events and movements on that geopolitical chessboard are not changing. Martinez is not interested, at least judging from these first two novels in the series, in upending the Cold War or sending it, in the large scale, in directions that it did not take in our world. Instead, by exploring what happens to these characters, to this sliver and slice of an imaginary branch of the cold war espionage apparatus, the ultimate stakes, the real changes, are in his new characters and how they deal with the powers they have, and their still mysterious origin. It does make MJ-12 Shadows, like its predecessor, a very personal set of stories, which is a strange thing to say for an cold war paranormal espionage thriller series, but that is what the author is achieving.
I strongly look forward to the third novel in the series, and to seeing what and where in the Cold War he brings these characters, and brings this secret paranormal history.