Review of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole

Our long national nightmare is over.  Myke Cole’s next book—Javelin Rain—is out March 29.  In the meantime, my review of his second book is below.

Fortress Frontier is the sequel to Control Point and book 2 of the Shadow Ops trilogy.  Cole makes a rather bold choice to introduce a new protagonist.  Even after Oscar Britton shows back up, he still plays second-fiddle to Colonel Alan Bookbinder, a Pentagon paper-pusher who gets sent to the FOB in the Source (i.e., Fortress Frontier) when he comes up Latent.  Col. Bookbinder is a very different character from Britton.  He isn’t quite so given to angst as Britton (I didn’t mind Britton’s angst in Control Point, but I know a lot of people didn’t care for it), and what angst he has is centered on his anxieties about taking command and leading combat troops.  For Bookbinder, following orders is an easy decision—at least at first.  Life after coming up Latent is also much different when you turn yourself in, have rank, and nobody seems to know quite what your power is (it’s kept subtextual, but I was bemused that the military didn’t quite seem to know what to do with a Latent who was, as they say in the military, a ‘full bird’).

Fortress Frontier cover

Unfortunately, it’s the switch in POVs that causes the first real problems with Fortress Frontier.  The momentum abruptly lurches to a halt when the POV switches to Britton, then after several chapters Britton disappears for a little too long.  As I alluded to earlier, I really liked Britton in Control Point, but he suffers in comparison to Bookbinder, who starts off a housecat and winds up a lion.  Britton’s reflections on the problems with how the U.S. government handles magic are also significantly weaker once he’s no longer focusing on the military, a probable result of the author getting outside his comfort zone.  It stifles progress in the story too as most of what I thought would happen didn’t.  The end of Control Point, which seemed so revolutionary within the world, wound up much less so (although in a very realistic way, for which Cole should be commended).  The climax of Fortress Frontier, on the other hand, REALLY sets things up for an explosive finish in the final book of the trilogy.

The action scenes were the best part of Control Point.  Fortress Frontier has fewer and of lower quality (Bookbinder’s power, once he figures out what it is, just isn’t as cool as Britton’s Gate-fu).  The rules of magic in Cole’s world haven’t been made entirely clear, but more than once what happens in Fortress Frontier seems to contradict what we’ve already learned.  We get more world-building (including the continued use of bits and pieces at the beginning of every chapter giving glimpses at magic from varied perspectives) both in the Source and the home plane, but it’s good not great, even with the welcome addition of India as a player.

But that it’s good, not great is the worst I can say about the first 4/5 of the book.  The final fifth, on the other hand, is can’t-put-it-down great.  The pace picks up, the suspense is palpable, the divergent threads of the book come together, we get a big final battle, and the U.S. government gets a conclusion that it won’t be able to ignore.

4/5 Stars.

Disclosure: I received an advance review e-copy of Fortress Frontier by request.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction).
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