Thursday, February 7, 2013

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole

Early in 2012 former soldier Myke Cole debuted with Shadow Ops: Control Point. This was a fantastic debut that blended military SF with fantasy, gave us some characters with powers that came straight out of a comic book and threw in some fantastic action scenes that read like a big budget action film.

A lot was expected of the follow up. Myke Cole is a more assured writer the second time around, and I didn't get some of the uneveness of character that was one of my criticisms of Control Point. I can't confess to be quite as enamoured of the new book's central character Colonel Alan Bookbinder as many, but then I do agree with those reviewers that the first book's central character Oscar Britton could be intensely annoying at times as well.

Myke Cole took a risk I felt with Fortress Frontier in structuring the book the way he did. It picks up with Bookbinder going about his day to day duties as a Colonel at the Pentagon until a routine physical check up uncovers the possibility that he may be latent and throws his life into disaray taking him away from the most important thing in his life: his family.

Where's the risk here? Fortress Frontier actually overlaps the end of Control Point. When Bookbinder arrives at the Source, the magical otherworld that the US military are trying to exploit, I became a little confused because characters I knew were in different situations at the end of Control Point weren't in those situations.

Because there's probably a need to update the audience with what happened to Oscar Britton there's a little bit of a jarring shift when action goes from Bookbinder to Britton all of a sudden. The book, which is highly readable, could have been ever smoother if the inevitable alliance between the two men had been left until the next book. Bookbinder is an interesting character with a fascinating power and could have carried this second installment all on his own.

I said earlier Bookbinder wasn't really someone I liked and I stand by that, he was a real sad sack. Continually bemoaning his lot in life, unsure of himself and whether or not he should be a soldier. Woe is me! He eventually recovered, but it was rather tedious there for a while.

The introduction of the naga; an Indian myth. was a real master stroke and that section held my interest and I wouldn't have minded seeing a lot more about them. There's a description of the game of cricket at the Indian encampment. I like cricket. I didn't really appreciate Cole's description of it. The description of the game seemed to indicate that most wickets fall as the result of runouts. I don't know how many games of cricket Myke Cole has seen, I suspect not many, because caught or bowled is by far the most common form of dismissal. Run outs are comparatively rare. A shame he didn't speak to someone who clearly knew about the game before including it.

The world building, as with the first novel, was excellent and I really like the little 'real news' snippets that start each chapter. I mentioned The X-Men in my review of the first book, and I'm going to do it again here, because Bookbinder's 'leeching' power reminded me very much of The X-Men's conflicted heroine Rogue, who has a similar ability.

There's still a lot of scope here and my annoyance with the cricket notwithstanding I look forward to the 3rd book in this highly entertaining series.

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