It’s been rough for Oscar Britton, Army officer turned Sorcerous Operations Corps portamancer turned outlaw selfer. After the chaos of his escape from the U.S. Army base in The Source, living life on the run while being true to his developing philosophy and ideals for what should be the future of magic users like himself have caused divisions and divisiveness in the small band that follow him on his journey. Britton might have been a Lieutenant in the army, but leading a group on the run is a completely new situation for him to handle.
In the meantime, a paper pusher of a Colonel from the depths of the Pentagon unexpectedly has his magical latency turn into an opportunity to be reassigned to Forward Operating Base Frontier. In an overlap of time and space, we’ve gone somewhat back in time, giving us a new perspective on events readers of the first book have already seen. However, the good Colonel must step up his game, and learn to harness his powers during the road trip of a lifetime across The Source to try and save that base from ultimate catastrophe.
Fortress Frontier is the sequel to Myke Cole’s debut novel Shadow Ops: Control Point. As I alluded to above, it takes place in a somewhat overlapping fashion to that previous novel, but then drives the timeline forward, and expands the Magic-is-Returning world Cole has been developing in the Shadow Ops universe.
It follows two arcs; we continue Oscar Britton’s story as he learns to live life on the run after the events of Control Point. In addition, and more intriguingly for this reader, we are introduced to a new major viewpoint character. The aptly named Bookbinder is a paper pusher of an army officer whose magical talents prove frustratingly hard for the bureaucratic Army to quantify and qualify.
The strengths are very much in the action sequences written by an active duty member of the military, and the extremely vivid style of writing means that the set-pieces are not only believable and rational, they are exciting and engaging. I hesitate to describe or giveaway the game by revealing some of these, but suffice it to say we get to see new creatures in the Source, new conflicts in the Source and the real world, and brand new tactics.
I really liked the full bird Colonel Bookbinder, our new viewpoint character. As a paper-pusher in the depths of the Pentagon, I identified strongly with him and found his personality and actions extremely believable. I sympathized with Bookbinder’s plight from the get go, and was disappointed, in some ways, whenever we cut away from his story back to Oscar. The road-trip portion of his story was the best part of the book in my opinion, and threw one major surprise that I did not see coming.
I also liked the interstitial cutaway elements Cole throws in, mostly at the beginning of chapters. The snippets of news and information from around the world really show that the reaction to the return of magic is complex, multi sided and often muddled. It’s a very effective technique of worldbuilding. A gazetteer of what more of the world is doing in the wake of this would be something I’d love to see someday. I look forward to how Cole drives these changes in future novels, both as interstitial elements and as plot elements. Without doing too much in the way of spoilers, a fair chunk of the plot ties into what the nation of India has been doing since the return of magic and access to The Source.
The major weakness for me, is that Oscar Britton was nowhere near as interesting a character as Colonel Bookbinder. Britton’s characterization has improved from Control Point, but he still feels off to me somehow. On the other hand, Bookbinder feels to be a far more fully dimensional and graspable character than the sometimes frustrating Oscar Britton.
Cole is growing as a writer, and his skill is rising to match. The world of Shadow Ops is developing in interesting ways, and I look forward to more Shadow Ops novels.