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The world of Shadow Ops comes alive once more in Myke Cole’s newest book Fortress Frontier. In a setting where magic can change a dedicated military war fighter into a superhuman mage, Fortress Frontier pushes the envelope of personal growth and magical prowess all at once.
Fortress Frontier starts with a new character very different from Oscar Britton. Alan Bookbinder is to most of the world, a glorified paper pusher. In military terms, he is someone worth respecting, having reached the rank of Colonel but he has neither fought wars, nor earned medals for combat bravery. His journey of self discovery though, will captivate readers to their very core.
In the first book, Control Point, Oscar Britton was essentially the main character. In an interview with Toonari Post, Myke Cole said that more characters are to come and readers will see whereas Britton is a hard charging fighter, Bookbinder is a desk-sitting paper pusher. Bookbinder’s character is relatable in his hesitation and fear but is steadfast fighting his own sense of cowardice. So in terms of character design, Britton may be the conflicted superhero searching for his path in life, while Bookbinder is the unwavering commander of this magical ship.
Though the story started with Oscar, it takes off with Alan and it may be a mistake that the first hero is nearly upstaged by the second. Bookbinder’s character speaks to that part of us who want to be more, to rise up and not be afraid. Whereas Oscar’s character has a more traditional military feel with his gung-ho attitude, Alan is more representative of an ordinary civilian thrust into a difficult, life changing situation.
Additionally, the two books transition too seamlessly, with literally no time passing between the ending of the first book and the second. In real time, it has been a year between the first and second books; readers who have not read the first book recently will need a refresher on some of the terminology – which makes the included glossary of terms a huge boon to the book.
Adding fuel to this already great universe, the Forward Operating Base (FOB) on the frontier may be a military base in this book, but readers will be drawn into the desperate reality that is inflicted upon these military service men and women. The story has a few standard conventions that are in keeping with the meshing of an invading force fighting an indigenous people, but these elements are executed well. Other characters feel real and plausible.
The addition of magic also makes for more storyline opportunity and it is here that Myke Cole has expanded upon the masterfully built universe. The system of magic has evolved into demonstrations of their practical use since the first book. If anything, the first book showed literal, neatly scripted use of magic that was straight forward and will make a lot of sense to anyone familiar with an efficient military. The second book, Fortress Frontier, completely turns the straight forward approach on its head by giving magic a personality.
Magic is a vibrant and uncharted territory in many aspects of the Shadow Ops universe. This gives Cole leeway to create, change and even accelerate some of the magic usage in his books. Many books in the fantasy genre follow similar conventions, using magic to turn some of the less than plausible facets of a storyline into an acceptable plotline, but Cole’s execution sets him apart from everyone else.
He calls upon his military experience to give the fantasy aspect of magic a much needed anchored grounding in Shadow Ops. Without this, the magic used by Oscar Britton or Alan Bookbinder may not have had that unique and original feel. What may be common place in other fantasy books gains a level of depth and worth that cannot be seen when standing alone. Thus, the military and magic aspects of the Shadow Ops world compliment each other exceptionally well.
The military is also the basis of the most glaring opponent in this book, in the form of government and politics. As the series has grown, Fortress Frontier has zeroed in on how the system uses, abuses and destroys magic users.
In part, this is what happened to Oscar Britton in the first book. He witnesses the unfairness evident at the Forward Operating Base and sets a course that changes not only his life, but those of his friends too. One person who’s caught in the ripple effect is Alan, resulting in his rise to leadership when things look their worst. Here, readers will see Alan’s rise through his knowledge of logistics; cheering his successes while lamenting his losses side by side with him.
Myke Cole’s characters are gaining increased popularity and will eventually go toe to toe with the major antagonists in successive books. The world of Shadow Ops seems to be picking up steam, building toward that great climax in a yet unseen story arc that fans can almost taste. Fantasy readers will not only be drawn into this novel but will come away at the ending, realizing the enormous potential this universe possesses.
Combining military and fantasy genres has allowed Cole to cultivate a universe that has the ability to maintain a healthy succession of books and ever-evolving characters. With potential that goes beyond a trilogy or two, this is truly one of the most anticipated books of 2013 for many fantasy readers. Fortress Frontier is the supersonic jet fighter sequel to Control Point’s attack helicopter that started it all, better in every way.
Rating 4.5/5 – For great fantasy that is inspiring and well balanced, creating a world full of vivid military magic users