Alan Bookbinder might be a Colonel in the US military, but in his heart he fears he’s nothing more than a desk jockey, a clerk with a silver eagle on his jacket. But then one morning he is woken by a terrible nightmare and overcome by an ominous drowning sensation. Something is wrong. He has changed.
Forced into working for the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder’s only hope of finding a way back to his family will mean teaming up with former SOC operator and public enemy number one: Oscar Britton. They will have to put everything on the line if they are to save thousands of soldiers trapped in a fortress frontier on the brink of destruction.
Myke Cole’s debut Control Point, published last year, was ‘Fast-paced, well-written and well-thought out’ as I put it and I was really looking forward to reading its sequel, Fortress Frontier, to see whether the magic would hold. And I’m pleased to say it did. Not only did we get to catch up with the first book’s protagonist, Oscar, we’re also introduced to another lead character, Colonel Alan Bookbinder. He allows us to get a different view of SOC and of the forward operating base in the Source we last saw through Oscar’s eyes.
It’s worth mentioning that Bookbinder’s narrative arc starts some time before the end of the previous book and that roughly the first quarter of the book is spent catching us up to where we left last time. This confused me at first, but once I realised the time shift, things made sense again and I could just settle into the story. Cole uses an interesting structure in the book; not only does he go back in time at the start to give us Bookbinder’s full story and show us the effects of Oscar’s decisions in the previous book on the FOB, he also switches story arcs for a bit, from Bookbinder to Oscar and back again. In this way, we get both of their stories from their point of view and all the puzzle pieces fit together smoothly once we get to the spectacular finale of the book.
In itself the plot is quite simple: Bookbinder has to find a way to rescue the stranded personnel from the beleaguered base. It sounds easy, but of course it isn’t. Cole takes us on a long trek through the Source to find assistance and on this trek we learn more about the Source and make some interesting discoveries. I loved how we got to explore the way other nations dealt with the Great Reawakening and their treatment of their Latents, especially those of the Sahir, the Indian version of the SOC. The naga en their Bandhav, their human partners, are fascinating and Cole’s portrayal of the naga court amazing. I loved the details he incorporated, from the architecture to the mythology and the diplomacy, though I could have done without the visuals of snakes blanketing every surface, but that’s my personal prejudice against the slithery darlings rearing its head.
As in Control Point, the characters shine brightly in Fortress Frontier. Bookbinder is a compelling character and his emotional growth over the course of the book was very well done. When we first meet him, Bookbinder is a desk jockey. He’s a Colonel who has never seen any action and as a result he feels that he’s less of a soldier than all those around him who have, but he’s also convinced he isn’t capable of being authoritative and a leader of men, so he’s rather accepted his lot. But when he turns up Latent, but not Manifesting, he’s shipped off to the SOC base and he’s forced to learn to be more and start believing in his own capabilities as much as his inferiors do. Bookbinder is a perfect example of the ‘hero against all odds’, the one who is forced into it by his sense of duty and his humanity. Cole shows his struggle to be the leader he needs to be, to believe in himself and his grief at what he sees as his failures. In a sense, Bookbinder’s movement in the book is the opposite of Oscar’s in the previous book. Oscar was an insider-turned-outsider by his magic, while Bookbinder felt he was an outsider, by dint of his career path, who becomes an insider and comes home in a sense, through his experiences in the Source.
Oscar is as cool a character as ever and where I found him a little frustrating in his last outing due to his indecisiveness on which side to pick, that is completely gone in Fortress Frontier. Oscar has found his mission and works to complete it, while at the same time trying to get his group to safety. His desire to effect change in a peaceful manner and without ‘normal’ casualties typifies the person he is and regardless what happens to him, he keeps his honour and sense of duty, which makes him very sympathetic. His growth in this book is less dramatic than Bookbinder’s and as such I found his storyline just a little less compelling than Bookbinder’s, but it was strong nonetheless and gave us some key information for the denouement of the book.
Fortress Frontier ends on a high, but also on a drawn breath. For while the plot for this book is quite resolved, there are several loose ends that tease an explosive final in the last book in this trilogy. Cole’s respect for the military and the values it upholds bleed through, without glorifying war or violence. With his second book Cole has proven once again that he can combine amazing action scenes with great characterisation and genuine emotion. Fortress Frontier is stronger than its predecessor and raises expectations for the next book, Breach Zone. The Shadow Ops series is proving to be one of my favourite series at the moment and one I highly recommend.