Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole is the sequel to the author’s debut novel Control Point. Control Point was very much the tale of Oscar Britain and through him served to introduce the readers to the Supernatural Operations Corps. Unfortunately, this was also my problem with the novel I didn’t like Oscar. While there were times in the novel where I certainly sympathized with his plight more often than not I had serious issues with his decision making process. Fortress Frontier sees Cole broadening the scope of his world as the plot delves deeper into the various aspects of the Supernatural Operations Corps and the other “latent” people around the world.
Fortress Frontier primarily divides the story between the fugitive Oscar Britain and his crew (the former members of Shadow Coven plus the healer Teresa) and Colonel Alan Bookbinder, newly latent. The opening chapters of Fortress Frontier take place over the same time span of Control Point as Colonel Bookbinder first manifests his magic and finds himself gated out to FOB Frontier. Much like in Control Point readers get to witness the stark difference between a characters former life and their experiences in the SOC. The perspective in Fortress Frontier is shifted somewhat since Bookbinder, as an officer, offers insights into SOC operations that Oscar Britain never could. Things take a different turn as Fortress Frontier catches up with the finale of Control Point and the change of pace is refreshing.
With FOB Frontier cut off from the Home Plane things really kick into high gear. The story shifts from being about a fish-out-of-water into one about survival. While not quite the classical hero’s journey seeing Bookbinder evolve from the bureaucratic armchair officer he was into a frontline commander is exciting and there are definite moments as he starts to come out of his shell that me with my fist in the air. For the trappings of military fantasy there are sections of Fortress Frontier that echo traditional fantasy. Bookbinders sojourn to find relief for the isolated FOB Frontier in particular reminded me of Lord of the Rings, or other quest fantasies. It was never anything too overt, and all couched in the language of a military expedition but the quest-like nature of the journey across the Source was a nice twist on a familiar trope.
Oscar’s part of the story plays a nice counterpoint to Bookbinder’s part of the story. There is less back-and-forth regarding Oscar’s opinions on the SOC and he is actually stepping up to take responsibility for his actions. These sections of the novel also delve deeper into what’s happening on the home. I still think Cole is a bit too tentative in exploring the social and political situations often discussed in the opening epitaphs of each chapter but Fortress Frontier shows a marked improvement in exploring those parts of the story. There is still a lot left unanswered in Fortress Frontier and the novels action-packed finale ends in such a way that leaves me excited for whatever Cole has planned next.
Korey Jackson returns as narrator for the audio version of Fortress Frontier. However, I found his performance this time to be much improved. While I’m still not a huge fan of his female voices (Teresa is the only major female character and the one that never sits right with me) I found he was better able to present a unique voice for the individual characters in the novel. Fortress Frontier also feels like a story that could have been well served by two narrators to better distinguish the novel’s two leads.
An improvement over Control Point on all fronts Fortress Frontier solidifies Myke Cole as an important new voice in fantasy fiction today. As the Shadow Ops world continues to grow and Cole begins to explore the social and political aspects of the Great Reawakening in greater detail I can see this series becoming a classic of the genre. The strict military tone of the series makes it an easy sell to fans of military sci-fi readers and its rich world building and ever-deepening plot will engage fantasy readers. I’m in for the long haul on this one and I highly recommend all fans of fantasy and (some fans of) science fiction give the Shadow Ops series a shot.