Saturday, 9 March 2013

Myke Cole - Fortress Frontier

Myke Cole - Fortress Frontier (Shadow Ops #2)

Fortress Frontier is the sequel to Cole's debut, Control Point and continues the story of 'latent' magic users in a ostensibly contemporary world. I really enjoyed the unique ideas of Cole in his first, taking contemporary magic and applying it to its logical military ends. Fortress Frontier continues this tradition, following a new character, Alan Bookbinder, as well as a few chapters from the PoV of Control Point's MC, Oscar Britton. Bookbinder's character, and the book itself, is an improvement upon the original, and its a romping fantasy that mixes the appeal of commercial military thrillers with excellent characters, world-building, magic system and prose writing. Its the opposite of the sophomore slump (sophomore spring?).

The book follows a whole new character, Colonel Alan Bookbinder, from slightly before [BOOK ONE SPOILER ALERT]Britton's escape from the FoB[/SPOILER ALERT] to a period of time after, but incorporates around a hundred pages from Britton's perspective, which are, sadly, slightly less exciting. Bookbinder finds himself happily pushing paper in a high administrative position in the Pentagon when he finds himself feeling a little queer. With excellent brushstrokes we get inside his head as he comes up a 'Latent Grenade' - latent but without a school of magic that he practises. He is immediately requisitioned for tasking to the FoB 'Frontier' in the magical plane, as their paper-pushing Colonel of choice. However, to do this, he has to leave his wife and children without saying goodbye, and it is to Cole's benefit that he deals with this emotional complexity excellently. We really feel for Bookbinder, a conventional 'good guy', but with flaws in standing up for his own beliefs.

Tension with the commander of the FoB, Colonel Taylor, follow as the situation in the frontier gets more and more dire, and Bookbinder's character progression is both well dealt with and excellently paced. When Britton [SPOILER] finally leaves[ANTI-SPOILER], we see a few chapters from his perspective, which feel a lot less detailed, and there is less of an emotional pull. However, it does allow for the continuation from the first book that, perhaps, the lack of recap within the book doesn't allow for. I always feel that in multi-part series, a key element of the authors first fifty or so pages is to gently remind the reader, who may have read twenty or thirty novels between books 1 and 2 in the series, with a casual aside of X, Y or Z happened. This is something Cole attempts occasionally, but is necessarily prevented by the introduction of a new character that has no relation with the plot of book 1. Britton's PoV chapter, however, are sufficiently below the quality of Bookbinders that they are the only thing I felt prevented this from achieving a 5* rating from me.

The set-piece journey is excellent, and introduces new and exciting elements to the series that I hope are expanded upon in the final part of the 'trilogy' (Shadow Ops will be split into two 'trilogies' of three, set in the same world but with separate plots: Robin Hobb style). New monsters, new human elements, new ideas of how to play with the robust magical system Cole has come up with are introduced, and Bookbinder himself provides an exciting test for the novelist to follow up his massive potential as a character.

Behind the scenes of the main action, the overarching political ideology of the series is expanded as well, a serious questioning of freedom of information in First World Countries, as well as public condemnation and private usage of military ideas (CIA torture and the capture of Islamic insurgents, anyone?). It is here that Cole's military training and experience truly comes forward, as well as the clever and informed world building of FoBs. I particularly enjoyed the wry comment about all military installations, no matter the country of origin, looking the same. I imagined Cole with a wry grin as he wrote it!

And it is this imagination, this idea I have of Cole thoroughly enjoying playing with the rules he has set himself up with, of the plot being a logical continuation of those rules as opposed to the forced McGuffins that frequent so much contemporary fantasy, that sets this novel apart. Anyone with a fleeing interest in urban fantasy taken to its logical conclusion should take a look at the Shadow Ops series - its a blast in more ways than one.

Overall Rating: 4.5*

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