Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole
Time for a cheeky little guest review. Over to friend of The Eloquent Page @MrSamStrong. Today he’ll be casting his beady eye over 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.
Fortress Frontier (heretofore referred to as FF) is the second novel by Myke Cole. The first, Control Point (CP), was a fun and highly readable “military fantasy”. The cover informed me that it was like no other “military fantasy” I’d have read. That’s nice, but I had no idea that there was any such sub-genre. Anyway, one Waterstones offer and two days later and I’d got the thing read. It wasn’t without its faults. A protagonist of questionable intelligence with swings of loyalty to rival Gollum/Sméagol, a reliance on sexual violence as a threat to women, a love interest whose entire role seemed to be to fall in love with the protagonist because he was the protagonist and a somewhat disturbing approach to animal treatment, all served to annoy me. Despite this, the plot was breakneck, the world was interesting and Cole’s action sequences were breathtaking.
Note: At the end of CP there is a preview for FF. This preview actually sits around about the 100 page mark in FF, thus removing any and all tension from the first quarter of the book. I understand that the publisher wants to draw people in with exciting action, but in this case I’d have preferred it if they’d not bothered.
Disclaimer: I’m going to assume at this point that you’re aware of the events of CP. If not, you might want to stop reading because there are likely to be a few spoilers ahead.
And so, onwards… FF brings us a new protagonist (*cheer*), high-ranking military administrator Alan Bookbinder, whose first order of business is to tell us (twice) that his wife has got a bit porky now she’s in her forties, but he loves her anyway. She also says things like, “Bunny needs snuggles,” but Alan doesn’t seem to mind this. In what will likely become a staple of the series, Alan discovers he’s come over all magical. Unlike Oscar, in the first book, Alan is loyal/daft enough to turn himself over to the military straight away and, like Oscar, ends up dragged off to the “Source” (a parallel world where magic comes from) for training/indoctrination. Fortunately, for the reader, this serves to speed up Alan’s entry into the magical realm. Unfortunately, for Alan, as his timeline catches up with the events from the end of CP, things go catastrophically wrong.
And then the real story starts. 100 pages in. Right after we finish the preview. Only it doesn’t.
Instead, we get a hundred pages or so with Oscar and his fellow renegades. This did serve to flesh out a bit more of what was going on on earth and also allowed Therese to get a lot more assertive, but mostly felt like a load of setup for book three. Unfortunately, Oscar is a bit silly and does a number of daft things, including emotionally blackmailing his friends. After wondering how on earth Oscar and his friends are managing without the wonder drug that lets them control their powers, I was really glad to finally get back to Alan. Because here’s the thing with Alan: his power doesn’t manifest properly and he walks a long road to discovering his true potential, both magically and personally (plus when his power does turn up it’s really cool).
Note: Every author has their ticks, those words and phrases that their subconscious is so fond of that they make their way into as many sentences as possible. In this case, whenever a character shows the slightest bit of emotion they quickly “master” themselves. Now try reading this book without noticing. Sorry.
Cole’s experience as a “security contractor, government civilian and military officer” (taken from his bio) has clearly served him well. His knowledge of military jargon, silly acronyms and bizarre procedures had me totally convinced. There’s also a handy glossary at the back of the book to help people like me understand what the military types are talking about. Cole uses short, one or two paragraph articles at the start of each chapter to expand on the effects of the emergence of magic in the wider world. This is great as it avoids the need for potentially clunky exposition that might slow down the plot.
Despite my flippant remarks, Cole really did make me care about his characters, especially Alan, who, a lot of the time, just seemed like he needed a hug. His journey from administrator to <redacted> was a real pleasure to read, especially since his frustration with his situation felt so much more genuine than that of Oscar. Because of that, his successes are so much more satisfying. There are a few returning characters as well as a raft of new ones (including a competent female and some interesting monsters). Alan is also already married so he’s able to sidestep the whole unnecessary romance thing. Inevitably, some characters die and Cole handles this without a hint of melodrama. There are no heroic sacrifices and death in FF is quick, often brutal and has a long-lasting effect on the characters, especially Alan.
You can pick holes in other aspects of the story, such as why certain schools of magic are illegal, and why the U.S. government is willing to let the military turn every single magic user into a soldier, but ultimately you won’t really care. Cole has created a great set of characters and let them loose in some really creative situations. There’s plenty of well thought out and well described action and you get some interesting twists and turns along the way.
Oh and the ending is epic. EPIC.
I look forward to book three.
Thanks Sam. Fortress Frontier is published by Headline and available from 31st January 2013.