Fortress Frontier (Shadow Ops #2), by Myke Cole

Edition: UK paperback
Published by: Headline

Published on: January 31st, 2013

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop terrifying powers – summoning fire, manipulating earth, opening portals and decimating flesh. Overnight the rules changed…but not for everyone.  

Alan Bookbinder might be a Colonel in the US military, but in his heart he fears he’s nothing more than a desk jockey, a clerk with a silver eagle on his jacket. But then one morning he is woken by a terrible nightmare and overcome by an ominous drowning sensation. Something is wrong. He has changed.

Forced into working for the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder’s only hope of finding a way back to his family will mean teaming up with former SOC operator and public enemy number one: Oscar Britton. They will have to put everything on the line if they are to save thousands of soldiers trapped in a fortress frontier on the brink of destruction.

Fortress Frontier is the second book in Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops series, and with it he builds incredibly well upon what was a solid, thoroughly enjoyable and highly promising debut (Control Point, released last year). Fortress Frontier is all of these things, and so much more. Control Point was a story told from the point of view of Oscar Britton, whose experience with Latency (the sudden development of magical ability) leads him to become rogue, and go on the run from the military force he was a part of. In Fortress Frontier, the protagonist point of view shifts to Alan Bookbinder, and while events in his story dovetail with those of Oscar’s, we are presented with a very different character altogether – and accordingly, the manner in which Bookbinder deals with the sudden onset of Latency is very much the opposite of Britton. Instead of running, Bookbinder turns himself in and is assigned willingly to the SOC.

His problems arise, however, when he must learn not only how to deal with his new and frightening abilities, but how to be a ‘real’ soldier. Through the first segment of the book, the focus is very much upon the difficulty that Bookbinder has in doing so. As he is painfully aware from the beginning, he is an administrator rather than a front-line soldier, and is obviously unprepared for the new role he must learn to play. As these things tend to do, however, circumstances soon change suddenly and violently enough that Bookbinder’s back is put firmly to the wall. He must learn to adapt, or he and many others will die as a result.It’s this journey – both physical and personal – taken by Bookbinder that makes Fortress Frontier so enthralling and exciting a story to read. It is indeed when Bookbinder’s back is literally to the wall, when he MUST fight or die, that we are shown his true strength of character, and his sheer will not only to survive, but to keep those for whom he is responsible alive as well. This explosive scene is just one of many in the course of the book that kept me reading, unable to put the book down, but what kept me truly wrapped up in the story was seeing how Bookbinder handled this journey he’s been set on. As a character, he goes from one level of personal strength to the next, and I must take my hat off to Myke Cole for how very well written Bookbinder and his adventures are.

On a slightly less positive note, I’ve found it to be generally true of early novels in a series that there will be rough edges to smooth over, or aspects of their stories that are less pleasing. In the case of Fortress Frontier, it’s the inclusion of a middle segment that switches POV from Bookbinder back to Oscar Britton. While this part of the story was every bit as tightly written and interesting as the Bookbinder segments, in comparison to how enthralling I found the fresh perspective of a new character, Britton’s character seemed less nuanced and, dare I say it, less likeable.

On the flip side of my own misgiving (and I use that word reluctantly), this multiple-character perspective approach IS one that I’ve encountered and approved of in the past, and I do approve of it here. While my feelings on Britton as a character may be less warm, there is still plenty here to think about, not least because, as I’ve said, Britton and Bookbinder are two very different people. They’ve had very different experiences, and if the harder, less sympathetic side of Britton’s personality is a result of the harder life he’s had, then I can fully embrace this. Saying that I liked him less is not to say that I think he shouldn’t be written about. So, if Britton’s character or the way Cole has written him counts as a ‘rough edge’, then I have to say also that I’ve got every confidence in Cole’s ability to smooth it over as he steps up his game. If the first two novels in this series are any indication (and they are plenty of indication), then readers are absolutely in for something truly special as the series continues.

To summarize, it’s a well-earned 5 out of 5 for this book. Tight narrative, intriguing characters and mind-blowing action. If Control Point made Myke Cole an author to watch, then Fortress Frontier proves beyond a doubt that he’s an author truly worthy of the attention. More please!

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