Fortress Frontier: A captivating adventure

Reposting to include Marion’s new review.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviewsShadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole

It’s amazing how a main character can spoil a book. Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier is the second book in the SHADOW OPS series by Myke Cole. I didn’t like the first book, Control Point, very well because I loathed Oscar Britton, the main character. He offended my pride as a soldier. Yet I decided to try the second book and this time I have to give Myke Cole some real credit for giving me a reason not to hate his SHADOW OPS series…. his name is Alan Bookbinder.

Back in a 21st Century world that has experienced the return of magic, the US Army continues to run pretty much like it always has. There are operators and paper pushers and seldom is a Soldier good at both. COL Alan Bookbinder is a first rate, hard core Excel spreadsheet Ranger! For those of you who don’t speak Army, that’s basically saying that he’s a super stud in the office and worthless outside it. Bookbinder is a family man, a hard working bureaucrat with a sense of entitlement due to his high rank and he is a believer in working with the system instead of fighting it. Unlike Oscar Britton, whose arrogance gets people killed, Alan Bookbinder reacts just like he should when he develops latent magic. His life goes to hell as a result, but he does the right thing.

Back on the Source Plane, the aftershocks of Britton’s decision to free the sorceress Scylla (a negramancer whose powers decay things at an exponentially advanced rate) and basically take his team out of FOB Frontier are still ugly. People died because Britton was unwilling to follow orders he didn’t agree with and his continued resistance just made things worse. Some of Britton’s reasoning makes sense, but the second and third order effects of his choice to disobey continues to cause loyal servicemen and women die. (Yes, I hate Oscar Britton.) COL Bookbinder is summarily assigned to FOB Frontier before Britton’s mutiny and is left in the aftermath to try to grow beyond being a mere paper pusher to being a leader who can keep the men and women who depend on him alive.

I really liked Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier in spite of the character Oscar Britton. Myke Cole really does a great job of giving the reader some strong themes to cope with. Britton is an arrogant ass, Bookbinder has weaknesses and struggles to rise up to the position he holds, and it makes for great reading. I loved the world building that Cole does and how he uses different races and cultures to force the characters to evolve and grow. In the end, the reason that I am now so excited about this series after reading Fortress Frontier is that Cole gave me a character who I can like even with his flaws. It makes all the difference!

~John Hulet


fantasy and science fiction book reviewsI got Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier in a swag bag at a convention, and I started reading it without knowing it wasn’t the first book in a series. I don’t recommend this. At about the one-third point, when we meet Arthur Britton and his band of runaway magical people, I was completely confused as they stood around and rehashed events about which I knew nothing. I very nearly put the book down at that point. All of this is to say you really should read Shadow Ops: Control Point first.

John did a good job of discussing the two main characters in Book Two. The first one we meet is Alan Bookman, career military man and career bureaucrat. Magic has returned to our world, apparently coming from an alternate plane called the Source. People who manifest magical abilities have two choices: join the military and weaponize their abilities or be labeled criminals, hunted down and imprisoned or killed. When Alan suddenly, surprisingly manifests, he self-reports, and in almost no time at all finds himself assigned to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in the Source. To everyone’s confusion, his particular type of magic or “school” has not presented itself. This potentially makes Alan even more of a threat, since no one knows when it will or what it will be.

Meanwhile, Arthur Britton, a Portamancer (he opens rifts or gates), who was also assigned to FOB Fortress, has gone AWOL in a violent matter, taking with him a band of other magic workers, and releasing a deadly nagamancer named Sybil. Nagamancers make things decay, which is great if you’re in the composting business — but Sybil isn’t. Apparently, Britton is torn between loyalty to those like him, and loyalty to his country. He is also working through guilt because he believes he accidentally killed his father in a portamancy accident. Clearly Shadow Ops: Control Point dealt a lot more with Britton and I might have understood him better if I’d already read that. As it was, in the first half of Fortress Frontier he was talky and seemed to do little more than gate here and there running mundane errands. I never felt the urgency of Britton’s cause, or his emotional inner life, so I never connected with him. I did connect with the healer, Therese, who travels with him.

It was completely different with Bookman. Even when I didn’t like him much at the beginning of the book, I was engaged by him. Maybe his issues were simpler, but I understood him better. When an act of sabotage by insurgent indigenous “contractors” turns deadly, Bookman assumes command of a division of soldiers, in hostile territory, cut off from the Home Plane.

Bookman’s personal growth happens fast, but it’s believable, and it’s paired with an exciting do-or-die expedition to another outpost that might offer help. Bookman struggles to lead, to keep his team alive and come to grips with his unusual magical ability.

Reading John’s review, which comes from a military perspective, helped explain some of the assumptions and tropes that irritated me while I was reading. I’m less irritated now that I realize they are part of the military culture.

I’m not a big fan of military SF, and it turns out I’m not a huge fan of military fantasy either, but I grew to like Bookman and I was captivated by his adventure. While Britton never really worked for me, several members of his cohort did. Cole writes good action scenes and battle scenes, and he gives us plenty of those. The cover blurb compares the series to the X-Men and that’s accurate, while Cole has put his own spin on it. If you like actiony fantasy, you might want to check this out. If you love military fantasy, I would definitely recommend this, but read Shadow Ops: Control Point first.

~Marion Deeds

Release date: January 29, 2013 | Series: Shadow Ops (Book 2). The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop terrifying powers — summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed… but not for everyone. Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper-cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front-lines. Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier — cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun. Now, he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place — Oscar Britton, public enemy number one…

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JOHN HULET (on FanLit's staff July 2007 -- March 2015) is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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4 comments

  1. Britton sounds awful! I’m glad there’s a character this time that you were able to relate to.

  2. John, I always think that your perspective as a soldier is interesting. I hope you’ll review more military SFF!

  3. I understand the terminology perfectly. I had cousin who was an oxymoron posted at Ft. Meade, Md.

    Basically the Col. is the type who could end up being “fragged by accident”. My brothers told me about that little trick from the Viet Nam days.

  4. John Hulet /

    That’s what is so great about the story. COL Bookbinder gets a chance to grow beyond what he was….it’s not always pretty, but it’s very interesting! I think that Cole did something very interesting with this part of the story.

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