Book Review: Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier, By Myke Cole (Possible spoilers)

After far too long, I finally got my hands on Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier, the second book in the series. As expected, I greatly enjoyed it, and had a very hard time putting it down. (Though I probably should note that I might be a tiny bit biased, since Myke is an awesome guy and I’ve had the chance to talk with him many times now.) But now I’ll finally get to the review which took far longer than it should’ve to get itself written. And just to note, I’ll still be using my tried-and-true simple breakdown method.

So as a brief introduction, while Fortress Frontier is the second book in in the Shadow Ops series, it isn’t a direct sequel in the normal sense, and the primary viewpoint character in the book is different (though the protagonist from Control Point, Oscar Britton, does get sections of his own), and the book doesn’t entirely take place after the first. Its story starts during the events of the first book, and they intersect before this moves past the events of Control Point. It’s not something I see often, but it worked very well.

That said, time for the review itself.

Setting: As with Control Point, Fortress frontier is a military fantasy story, set in the near future of our own world, only magic exists. There isn’t too much more to say about the base setting. That said, there is also another world we have to mention, the realm know as the Source. It is a magical world that sort of connected to Earth shortly before the series starts. While a good portion of the previous book took place in the source, it was almost all at the army base, so apart from the generally arid landscape and the native goblins who worked at the base, we didn’t see too much of it. That changes in this book, and we get to travel across a decent chunk of it, and discover new, fascinating creatures and areas that I’ll discuss more in depth further down, along with the magic. But the pace at which we learn about this alien world is quite well done, and while we learned more about it in this book, I look forward to learning even more.

Characters: This is going to be a fun section. While I liked reading Oscar Britton in Control Point despite his many stupid (but in-character) decisions, Fortress Frontier‘s protagonist, Colonel Alan Bookbinder, is just so much easier to like and root for while also being a very interesting person. Bookbinder is a career military man, but an administrative one with no combat experience, which often leads to him feeling out of his league in situations, and he is a family man. When he comes up Latent, he does what he’s expected to do, turn himself in to the SOC, and finds himself shipped off to the same base we spent most of last book at. Shortly after he arrives, things start to go very wrong, and Bookbinder has to really reach into himself and find his leadership potential and make the best of the situation. It’s a great journey.

Also, Oscar Britton does return, not just as a character but as a viewpoint character, and his journey continues nicely from the last book, both before and after he and Bookbinder cross paths. There really isn’t too much I can say about his part in the story without major spoilers, and despite the spoiler warning I do like to try and avoid major spoilers.

Now to side characters. I’ll probably forget some who deserve to be talked about, as there are several in this book, both returning and new, but I suppose the ones I remember best are the ones more worth talking about.

First off, let’s talk about the Naga (Vasuki-Kai specifically).  IF you’ve read some of my other (infrequent) postings here, you’ll know I love me some non-human characters, and Vasuki-Kai is a great example of a non-human character that serves the story much better as a non-viewpoint character. Apart from him, the other side characters who made the biggest impression were Crucible, Taylor, and Harlequin. The former two we get to see through Bookbinder’s eyes as he adjusts to life on the FOB, and Crucible becomes a friend while Taylor an antagonist, until we learn some more. But even with Taylor we get to learn more, and by the time his role in the story is finished it’s hard to hate him. And with Harlequin, he actually gets sections of his own near the end of the book, and in addition to getting inside his head we get to see him make a very tough choice; a very different look at the man compared to his conflict with Britton in Control Point. The rest of the supporting cast filled their roles well; I don’t recall any of them being irritating, at least, and we did get to see more about some of them, such as the Latents who were working with Britton in Control Point.

Plot: I covered a bit of this earlier, but in brief, Alan Bookbinder, a military officer with a non-combat role and no combat experience, comes up Latent and finds himself shipped off to the same FOB Oscar Britton was at in Control Point. Unfortunately, he arrives only shortly before the events of the climax of the last book, and the FOB is suddenly in a terrible position, cut off from Earth and under constant attack. Bookbinder has to find in himself the courage he doesn’t think exists and take charge of the situation once he becomes the ranking officer on scene. Eventually, however, he realizes that he’s really only delaying the inevitable, and with no other option decides to travel with Colonel (I think he was a colonel at least) Dhatri, their Indian attache, and his naga partner/boss Vasuki-Kai to the Indian FOB, where they have a portamancer that can get people back to Earth. The journey proves dangerous, but they make it, Bookbinder earning more respect from his men, Dhatri, and the naga. They also come across Oscar Britton’s father, and he joins them. Unfortunately, the naga king at the Indian FOB doesn’t seem inclined to let them leave, especially once he sees what Bookbinder’s magic can do. Desperate, Bookbinder launches an escape which, while successful, will doubtless hurt relations with the Indians, and he finds himself detained by Indian, then American military, still unable to get the help he needs to save the FOB–that help being Oscar Britton, the only person who can get help there. Fortunately, Harlequin decides to free them and Britton, and they just manage to rescue the survivors from the FOB.

Britton’s plot picks up just about where it left off from the last book, at the goblin village preparing to go after Scylla, who he was responsible for freeing. Their attempts to capture or kill her prove unsuccessful, however, and he moves to his second  agenda item, changing the law regarding Latents in the United States. However, they are fugitives, so every step has to be cautious. Eventually, they get in touch with the Houston Street Gang, a Selfer group in New York City, and begin to work with them to forward change. Unfortunately, they underestimate the military, and it turns out the gang’s leader was an impostor. Britton and his group are quickly captured, and later, after deliberation and rescue, decide to help save the FOB.

Both intersecting plotlines are very well executed, and Cole makes good use of his slightly unusual story layout, (that being the chronology of events between the two books, as well as continuing the series with a different character as the obvious focus while not abandoning the previous book’s protagonist. It was a bit of a risk, but it paid off, and gives the series a feeling of the world expanding while not overwhelming the reader. The story ends on a sort of cliffhanger, that being that while the plot of this book is completed, the way it ends is sure to change a lot in the world, and made me very eager to read Breach Zone, (which I have done by this point.)

Magic: I’ll keep this brief, as it is mostly the same as in Control Point, just with some additions. The first and most important of these is Bookbinder’s previously undiscovered type of magic, which lets him steal another’s current and bind it to an object (one example being binding portamancy to a truck, which then served as a portal. There are a lot of cool applications for it, many of which are mentioned and made use of in this book, and it adds an interesting dimension to the magic system. (I also have a personal liking for anti-magic magic, so there’s that.) The other main additions are the introduction of the naga, which I described a bit above, and the fire creatures whose name I can’t recall. Put simply, the naga are really cool and alien while still being understandable. My only prior exposure to naga in fiction was in Warcraft 3, and they were my favorite race in the game. These naga are different from those, but that’s fine as they are very much their own race.  The fire creatures, while serving only as obstacles for the most part, help to add even more depth to the world of the Source, as we learn about their conflicts with the naga. The gradual expansion of our knowledge of the Source feels very natural, as though we are discovering things along with the human characters, which fits very well with both the story and some of its themes.

 

So in case it wasn’t obvious enough already, I loved this book. It was a fun, exciting read, and there was a great balanced of different and new things to familiar things, and it beautifully sets up the plot of Breach Zone, then ext book (which I’ve read by this point since it took me too long to finish this review.)

So on that note, then, I think I’ll stop here. Definitely check out the series if you haven’t yet, and stay tuned for my review of Breach Zone, which I promise won’t take quite as long. (I hope.)

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