Last year, Myke Cole’s magical US Army took the world by storm in Control Point. This February, its sequel in the Shadow Ops series, Fortress Frontier, raises the bar by adding more magic, American politics, and the Indian Army to the mix. It is an amazing combination of military fantasy, epic worldbuilding, and superhero influences, with action that sweeps you in from the very first page and may lead to sleepless nights trying to finish the book as quickly as possible.
What a geek wants
Fortress Frontier does everything right that geek culture ever did wrong. It is like Heroes without the cop-out of a supernatural senator. It is like X-Men, but with a realistic government. It is like Stargate Atlantis without all the clichés, and Stargate Universe without all the drama. It is Dungeons and Dragons without mediocre worldbuilding. Heck, it even reminds me of 24 without the too-perfect, badass agent saving the world in a day. Now, you may not understand all these references, as not every one of our readers will have seen each of those shows. Suffice to say, Fortress Frontier is everything this particular speculative fiction geek loves, but better.
No more whiny little pansies?
Where the main character was Control Point’s prime weakness, it is Fortress Frontier’s certain strength. Events don’t pick up where they left off in the first book. Instead, we see Cole’s magical version of our world through a new pair of eyes. Bookbinder is an administrative colonel who has never really seen any action—that is, until he becomes Latent, at which point his life is changed forever. All of a sudden, he finds himself in the Source—the parallel universe linked to our own plane, where goblins and magical creatures reign—trying to figure out how his magic works while dealing with a completely new chain of command.
To be honest, after reading Control Point, I was convinced Cole was unable to write good characters. Oscar Britton, the main character, changed his mind as quickly as an octopus may change its colors and was more emo than any teenager I’ve ever met. In what little we see of Britton in Fortress Frontier, he’s still his old annoying self. Bookbinder, on the other hand, is a strong and morally stable character. He has his weaknesses and insecurities, but despite those, he stays loyal to himself and his country. Basically, he’s everything you’d expect from an all-American patriot, except more realistic. In hindsight, Britton being a whiny little boy wasn’t bad writing; Fortress Frontier makes it look like writing that character the way he did was a conscious choice Cole made. A choice that, to me, detracted from Control Point, but actually strengthens Fortress Frontier.
With Bookbinder’s new set of eyes, the magic of Fortress Frontier takes a big step up as well. The magic in the world Cole created is one of the biggest strengths of Control Point. It is captivating in its simplicity, yet delightfully creative in its application; the Latent can develop one of a possible nine abilities, four of which are prohibited, and each ability comes with a series of skills that can be used towards endless goals. Fortress Frontier also adds a new ability to the mix. This ability is more creative than the all other abilities combined, and the applications are unending and wonderfully imaginative. The battle scenes in Fortress Frontier are even more mind-blowing—and not just because of the new magic, but it certainly helps.
Straight from the Source
Not only does the magic get a facelift, but the Source is expanded upon and further explored. This is aided in no small part by the fantastic map by Priscilla Spencer. Much like the magic, the Source is a wellspring of creative conduit for Cole, and it shows in the writing. The obstacles faced by Bookbinder and company throughout the book are intriguing and captivating, and left me wanting a whole lot more—something that Cole is almost certain to deliver in future installments.
No book is perfect, however, so I asked myself: is there absolutely nothing wrong with Fortress Frontier? I suppose I could mention the fact that some of the characters are a little too trusting—Dude, Britton, I saw that was a trap the moment you first walked into the room! Why did it have take you a whole chapter to figure it out?—or that it is a little farfetched for a whole army division to commit to fighting a war at the word of a colonel without checking with superiors first. Those things are merely minor problems, though; they definitely don’t detract from the reading pleasure that this amazing novel offers.
Fortress Frontier is a force of nature. It is a breath-taking rollercoaster ride. It is an artistic tour de force. Cole’s no-nonsense prose pulls you in and takes you for a ride through high-paced action and astonishing conflicts both military and political. In this book, Cole asks us a question relevant to all generations: if you are different than others, does that make you less human? This story questions loyalties and motives, and, while we don’t live in a magical world—though Cole’s magic system makes me wish we did—the philosophies behind Fortress Frontier are still relevant to us today. The “us against them” parts of the story—the sections that pitch the Latent against the US government—are extraordinarily well-written and portray a realistic revolution, one without the easy solutions you so often find in stories like these.
Why should you read this book?
Fortress Frontier is even better than Control Point, and we gave that one a 4¾-star review. If you like superheroes, ancient mythology, military fantasy, comics, epic fantasy, TV shows like Stargate, Heroes, and The 4400, or really if you are geeky in any possible way at all, I cannot recommend Cole’s Shadow Ops series to you highly enough. If you haven’t picked it up yet, go get a copy of Control Point right now. You’ll love it—I daresay that’s a promise.
Stephan and Garrett received review copies of Fortress Frontier courtesy of Ace Books.