Want to know what one of the coolest books you could ever get is? An ARC! I won myself an advanced copy of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole from a contest he ran a couple months ago. It’s actually funny how the contest went because I didn’t think I had a chance in hell to win. Throughout the month, Cole posted different entries on twitter so I got to see how cool everyone else was. “Aw man… I don’t even have Photoshop, I did a literal cut and paste. Oh well, it was a fun way to spend part of an afternoon.” So I was slightly floored when I won. I shook my fist at that hurricane that slowed down the mail when I was waiting for the book to show up on my doorstep and I devoured the hell out of it when I got it in my hands. Even though I was in the middle of the final push to finish my own novel. And I get to talk about it now.
Coven 13 Tredici – Who’s Unlucky Now? Got me a shiny green ARC. Now, this is cool well beyond being fancy and getting to read the book early. The first Shadow Ops book was one of the first books I talked about on this blog and I dubbed it the most recommended book of last year. Control Point has been talked up all over ye olde internets. Likewise, in the past few weeks, Fortress Frontier has been all over the “Anticipated for 2013” lists. Go ahead, open a new tab and search it. It’s there.
So what does an author do when he sets the bar really high with the first book? Open up an industrial can of awesome.
Back of the book time!
The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people begin to develop terrifying powers – summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed… but not for everyone.
Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front lines.
Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier – cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.
Now he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place: Oscar Britton, public enemy number one.
First, huge, nine hundred pound gorilla in the room… we have a new protag. This brings up mixed feelings if you liked Oscar Britton, I’m sure. He had a great character arc in book one, so it’s risky to move him to a secondary role in Fortress Frontier. Put any worry out of your head right now. Alan Bookbinder is an even better main character. Don’t take this as a knock against Britton and the first book, read that sentence as it’s intended, Cole’s risk paid off and he raised the bar again. Britton is a soldier who became magical and went to do different soldier things with his magic. Bookbinder is a professional paper pusher who is told “You’re going to the front likes. Now. There’s paper to push there.”
Bookbinder is an almost-outsider. He is good at what he does and had a long military career prior to page one of the book. His role as support is crucial, but he is aware of how the combat elements of the military view him. So when he comes up latent (i.e. discovers he has magic), he isn’t exactly happy about being thrown to the front lines of another dimension. This is a point of view of support staff thrown into combat roll. It isn’t something I think I’ve ever run across in SF and if I have, definitely not someone with the rank Bookbinder’s got. He has this mindset of self doubt and inadequacy but is determined to make it through the meat and potatoes of the plot swirling around him.
Speaking of the plot, there’s a shift here too from the first book to Fortress. Britton is fighting the system. Bookbinder is surviving. Shit has hit the fan, lots of it. Bookbinder doesn’t stay a passive character, only reacting to the disasters facing FOB Frontier. He makes things happen. I’m not going to tell you what he makes happen because I don’t want to ruin all sorts of things I enjoyed. It’s another case of there being a very fine line between giving examples to prove I’m not blowing smoke, and spoiling things for anyone who reads this. Bookbinder’s quest is thoroughly fantastic, you’ll just have to read it yourself and be amazed.
I did get confused early on in Fortress however. The timeline as it compares with Control Point is a bit blurry in the first couple chapters. It’s set up the way it has to be in order to tell a coherent story here in book two, but I missed the clues that told me how they related. It’s really not something that’s dwell worthy though. Even money most people caught on to the clues I missed and didn’t get phased one bit.
Fortress gets upgrades across the rest of the board too. I’m not spoiling anything by saying there are non-American military personnel involved with this. It’s just as fascinating to see how the other nations of the world deal with magic. Throughout both books there are so many tantalizing snippets about the rest of the world. Every chapter starts with a little blurb about the world at large. Holy crap yes I want to know all about how the Danish military controls the weather. Even these blurbs and off hand comments show how smart and well thought out this series is. I was constantly beset by a feeling of logic, similar to when I read World War Z. You come away feeling that you just read how the world really would end up if magic just showed up one day.
I’m starting to seriously ramble on here, by I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on a couple more points, at least briefly, before I goad you one last time to read this book. First off, the magic system itself gets an upgrade. This is in both application of existing magic and the magic available to the world. We’re starting to dance that fine line between knowledge and spoiler again. The important part to take from it though is that there are new mechanics here in this book, and it shows us that Cole isn’t about to stop moving his world forward. If there’s an exact timeframe between the Great Reawakening and the books’ current date, I can’t think of it, but it surprised me that there was still discovery in Cole’s world. The magic always had an entrenched feel in the world, but it makes sense for discovery to be ongoing. There’s that whole well thought out world thing coming up again. I have no doubt that all the ripples being cast in this book are going to be felt farther out in the series.
Seriously, this post is mushroom clouding. Last point though. Maps. Maps are lacking from books too often nowadays, especially for urban fantasy or other books that involve the modern world. Fortress has a beautifully crafted set of maps up front that mark out all the major locations of both books so far. It greets you up front and makes me happy. It should make you happy. Check out his own blog post about the map.
So that’s it. It’s not a stretch of the mind to think I’ll be talking about this book again at the year end for 2013. This whole series is worth all the buzz. I just wish I didn’t have to wait around until next year for another.