Sunday, 5 July 2015

Review: 'Fortress Frontier' by Myke Cole

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Suddenly people from all corners of the globe began to develop terrifying powers - summoning fire, manipulating earth, opening portals and decimating flesh. Overnight the rules had changed... but not for everyone.

Alan Bookbinder might be a Colonel in the US Army, but in his heart he knows he's just a desk jockey, a clerk with a silver eagle on his jacket. But one morning he is woken by a terrible nightmare and overcome by an ominous drowning sensation. Something is very, very wrong.

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 inside a frontier fortress on the brink of destruction, and show the people back home the stark realities of a war that threatens to wipe out everything they're trying to protect.

 

This is one hell of a fast and fun read. I devoured Fortress Frontier in less than 24 hours, racing through a dynamic story full of likeable characters living in a not-too-distantly futuristic world. The second instalment in Myke Cole’s awesome Shadow Ops series is insanely fast-paced: the story races along a mile-a-minute, with every few pages introducing something new and exciting, be it an explosion, a magical beastie, an enemy attack or a supernatural discovery. Fortress Frontier is essentially much like its predecessor, Control Point, only better; it’s as though the first book has been patched and updated, not to the point where it’s perfect, but to a point where it feels much more smooth and satisfying than the original.

In my review of Control Point I described the Shadow Ops series as a combination of X-Men, Black Hawk Down, Avatar and Heroes. I stand by these comparisons after completing the second book, focusing as it does on a minority of people with special abilities in a military setting in hostile territory inhabited by alien races (which is AWESOME, by the way). To drag in more names, Fortress Frontier is dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien and the father of D&D Gary Gygax, which is fitting since a big chunk of the book is taken up with a small group of characters embarking on an intrepid journey across thousands of miles in order to try and save the world. But despite all the comparisons with other writers and franchises, I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I would say this is another huge point in the author’s favour.

The one issue I had with the first book was a lack of sympathy with the mercurially-mooded main character Oscar Britton. Thankfully that’s largely resolved here by the addition of a new POV character who dominates the majority of the novel. Alan Bookbinder is a much more likeable protagonist than Oscar, focused as he is on his struggle to overcome his own lack of experience and self-confidence in order to survive in a strange and lonely environment. Alan’s character develops steadily and believably throughout the book, unlike Oscar in Control Point; and while his overnight mastery of his newfound abilities is almost as implausible as Oscar’s in the first book, I found Alan to be so likeable that I didn’t mind turning a blind eye.

It’s been about a year since I read the first book, and so I was a bit confused regarding the time frame of events relating to the original characters. When Oscar and the others finally did make their appearance I was a little disoriented, and the subsequent pages of characters squabbling repetitively didn’t exactly do a stellar job of getting me back on top of things. But the events of the first book came back to me in dribs and drabs, and if it hadn’t been so long since I first started the series I imagine I’d have had no trouble following at all. Either way I definitely don’t intend to wait nearly as long before moving on with the series this time. After Fortress Frontier’s explosive (if slightly rushed and chaotic) finale there are still a lot of plot threads waiting to be resolved, and I can’t wait to see how they play out in the next book, Breach Zone.

To those still on the fence: if you liked Control Point, you’ll love Fortress Frontier. If you didn’t like Control Point, give Fortress Frontier a try anyway – it’s much better!

4/5

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