|FORTRESS FRONTER (SHADOW OPS: Book Two)
Myke Cole (mykecole.com)
Colonel Alan Bookbinder, a Pentagon-based paper-pusher, wakes from a nightmare to the feeling that he is drowning. Before the day is out, it is clear that Colonel Bookbinder has come up Latent, though he has not yet Manifested any particular powers. Surrendering himself to the SOC, he finds himself in a new office, doing the same old job. This office is in Forward Operating Base Frontier, in the alternate plane known as the Source. When Oscar Britton effects his escape, leaving what remains of the base open to almost-constant goblin attack, Bookbinder finds himself drawn out of his comfort zone, fighting for the survival of the base and his people. His options limited, the colonel finds himself on a collision course with the very man who left them all to perish.
Rather than picking up immediately following the end of the first book in the series, Control Point, Myke Cole takes us back in time and introduces us to Colonel Alan Bookbinder, and reintroduces us to this brave new post-Great Reawakening world from a new point of view. Career Army, Bookbinder has, nonetheless, never served in combat. Despite his rank, he does not have the respect of his subordinates, and feels that he doesn’t really deserve it. In many ways, Bookbinder is Oscar Britton’s opposite: when he discovers that he is Latent, he surrenders himself willingly to the SOC and finds himself doing the same job in a new base. Where Oscar is a combat veteran who is starting to question the methods of the Army in which he serves, Bookbinder finds himself recreated as a new man through his experiences in the Source: his fear is gone, replaced by a desire to not only lead, but to lead from the front; he finds himself endowed with a new sense of authority and quickly discovers that he has the respect of the relatively small group of men and women under his command.
As well as introducing this new central character, and the secondary characters that form around his storyline, Cole uses Bookbinder’s story to remind the reader of what has gone before: the rules of this strange new world, the various types of magic, and the makeup of the people based at FOB Frontier. He manages to re-cover a lot of ground while pushing the story forward and keeping the reader engaged. It’s also an interesting device in allowing the reader to see what happened inside the base when Oscar and his friends made their bid for freedom, and shows the consequences of the action that closed the first book.
When Bookbinder is firmly bedded in, Cole eventually returns us to Oscar, and picks up where he left off. Here, a lot of the groundwork prepared in the first novel begins to pay off, as Oscar tries to find a movement that will allow him to expose what is going on, and change how Latents are viewed by the rest of the world. The insurgencies mentioned in the first book begin to play a greater role here, and it’s no surprise that they view Oscar – sometime Public Enemy Number One – as something of a hero. Here, too, we see an expansion of some of themes Cole touched upon during Control Point: the mistrust between normal humans and this new breed of Latents, and the origins of this schism. It’s an interesting – and all-too-plausible – take on that age-old superhero problem.
As the story moves towards its final act, the paths of Britton and Bookbinder begin to converge, as it becomes clear that Oscar may be the only person alive who can help Bookbinder to save his people. On the journey, we see whole new swathes of the Source, and meet a handful of new races that may have been glimpsed, or hinted at, before. In one of the book’s most surprising turns, we run across an old, and completely unexpected, friend, serving to close off – perhaps a little too conveniently – one major plotline in the process.
With most of the groundwork laid in Control Point, Cole is free to spend his time telling a good solid story this time around. Once again, the use of fictional epigraphs – interviews, document excerpts, and the like – at the start of each chapter serve to expand our knowledge of the world without encroaching on the on-going story. Fortress Frontier feels a lot less disjointed than its predecessor; there is a more coherent flow to events, perhaps helped by the fact that the story is split across two main characters this time around, and less a sense of one short mission following another with no real connection between them beyond the characters taking part.
Myke Cole has found the perfect niche for his work. Military fantasy with a dash of science fiction, Fortress Frontier shows us a whole new side to the Shadow Ops world to which Control Point first introduced us. The introduction of a new central character gives us a chance to get a slightly different perspective on what we thought we already knew without contradicting anything that has gone before, while still managing to move the plot on considerably by the book’s action-packed ending. As fast-paced as the first, Fortress Frontier is, however, a much different beast: the origin story is out of the way; now it’s time to get down to business, and Myke Cole delivers beyond expectations. There is much to love here, and the reader is sure to come away with an intense need to find out what’s next.