Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole (Double Review)

With the upcoming release of Myke’s second novel, Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier in the first quarter of 2013, I was one of the reviewers invited to review the book as I’d previously reviewed the first novel, Control Point. And the great thing is that Fortress Frontier is a much better novel than Control Point, especially since it has a much better protagonist and the story is much more interesting as well. If you liked Control Point, then Fortress Frontier is definitely going to be a better experience in almost all respects.

This review is a repost of the original review on The Founding Fields, which can be found here.

Shadow Ops - Fortress Frontier

“A stronger protagonist, and an interesting spin on a culture rarely seen in military fantasy, Fortress Frontier definitely trumps Control Point in a lot of ways.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

Control Point wasn’t one of the easiest books for me to read. The preliminary chapters took quite a bit of getting used to, and that initial experience was a bit rough since there was an entirely new world and mythology and culture to get comfortable with. Honestly, that happens whenever I read anything “new”, but one of the strengths of an author is how easy he or she makes that initial transition. With Myke, it was a slow transition. But, I still kept reading, and I finished the book in short order. Finishing the book, and being mostly satisfied with it, instilled in me a want to read the sequel as soon as I could. When the opportunity came to read an advance copy, I certainly did not hesitate. And that brings me to this review.

In almost all aspects, Fortress Frontier is a better novel than it’s predecessor. Alan Bookbinder is a much more engaging protagonist than Oscar Britton, and he is also much more believable, so to speak. The novel is paced much better. We get to see an interpretation of the Hindu culture and religion. We get to more than just the American military at work as well. And, in the end, this novel marks Myke Cole maturing as an author.

One of the reasons that I like Alan Bookbinder more than Oscar Britton is the fact that the novel cover shows Bookbinder as being very George Clooney-like in appearance, and I like Clooney, so that’s that. Another reason is that Alan Bookbinder didn’t immediately freak out when he discovered he could use magic, and then bail on his friends and family, as Oscar Britton did; Bookbinder called the experts, and he bid his family a proper goodbye, of sorts. I didn’t remark on it in my review of Control Point, but this was one of the things that bothered me about Britton. He is an active soldier, and he pretty much breaks down when he realises that he can open transdimensional portals. It always struck me as rather unrealistic, that he didn’t quite have the courage to stick to his friends, his fellow soldiers, and do the right thing as demanded by the Army. He ran, and he created hell for his parents. Compared to him, Alan is an administrator, not a soldier, and yet he does what Oscar should have done. he trusted in the system.

Bookbinder also struck me as someone who is much more motivated and driven than Britton was, since Bookbinder does have a wife, and kids that he would like to go back to. He was forced to give up his previous life, but his family is still always at the forefront of his mind; what he does, he does for his family. In Control Point Oscar Britton goes from being a soldier to deserter to soldier to rebel. In Fortress Frontier Alan Bookbinder goes from being a pen-pusher to a soldier.

In effect, he has a much tighter arc.

The book also does a very good job of recapping the events from the previous. The narrative starts from a few days before one of the big events that leads to the showdown at the end of Control Point and we get to see a lot of Alan Bookbinder as he starts to come to terms with his changed life. Since his talent for magic is… limited, we don’t get any lengthy training scenes or anything, allowing the author to get straight to dealing with the fallout from that big event and it’s aftermath. Alan Bookbinder’s narrative provides an excellent counterpoint to that of Oscar Britton since we get to see things from the perspective of the SOC soldiers themselves, and how they deal with Britton’s mess. The only time that the novel drags down is when Bookbinder leads a team of magic-users through the Source on a cross-country trip to contact the secret outpost of the Sahir Corps, India’s version of the SOC. Some of the scenes along the trip could really have briefer, honestly, or at least have had a lot more action going on. My enthusiasm for the book definitely flagged at this time.

Of course, there is no ignoring of Oscar Britton and his band of merry men and women. We do see what has become of him and his friends since the climax of Control Point, as the author delves more into the mysteries of the SOC and the world that is being built up.  The entire group is brought back as they continue their adventures, both within the Source, and back in the United States. At times, their narrative almost has the same feel as the Justice League season two finale where the League is on the run from an army of Thanagarians intent on destroying Earth. Some aspects of their new lives after the climax of the previous book are too convenient for my tastes, more so since Oscar uses his portals so damn much that the urgency of their circumstances is just lacking.

The world-building is an interesting aspect too. We see a lot more of the SOC that we’ve done previously. In Control Point the focus was almost always on the frontline troops of the SOC, rather than the officers and men (and women!) in charge of the SOC HQ in the Source. The wider scope of things is absolutely essential since it makes the entire concept of the SOC more… complete. We see a lot more of the variety of life in the Source than just the goblins, i.e, more monsters, and ones who will kill you on sight. The inspiration behind some of these new monsters appears to be Hindu mythology, and I thought that this was a great addition to how things are in the Source. It adds a wider scope of things to this alternate dimension. And we see the Sahir Corps, which was an excellent element of the novel. In short, the novel exceeds my expectations, which is always a good thing when it comes to life in the Source and out of it.

One of the ways in which Fortress Frontier doesn’t impress however is in the scope of things we see that are inspired by Hindu mythology. It’s nice to see Myke Cole’s take on this culture and religion, but it felt as if he stopped short of going the whole distance with this. It was all mostly surface detail. The author provides a very convincing backdrop for events in the Source but he doesn’t quite go the full distance, and there are opportunities left unexplored.. There’s also the fact that Bookbinder’s magical ability confuses the hell out of me at times, making me wonder what exactly it is that he does. He performs a bit of magic early on before he sets out on his cross-country trip and I never understood what it was that he did. I mean, I can get an idea from what the author is telling me, but it doesn’t make sense, if that in itself helps? And of course there’s also the slight pacing issue in the second half. The first half is definitely much more exciting than the second half, though the latter has some truly great moments to it’s credit nevertheless.

It all combines to make for a novel that is stronger than the debut effort, but still has some flaws.

Overall, Fortress Frontier is a great read. It has more depth to it, and a much wider scope than it’s predecessor. That’s why I’d recommend the novel if you’ve already read Control Point and enjoyed it.

Rating: 8.5/10

More Myke Cole: Control Point.


Posted on September 29, 2014, in 2012 Reading Challenge, Book Reviews, Challenges, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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