Books: Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier

In Brief:  Myke Cole’s second book in his Shadow Ops series continues the story of a contemporary Earth in which magic has suddenly reappeared, to be wielded by a small, seemingly random number of people.  In the US, the military has consolidated power and influence over these new mages, training them as elite soldiers and sending them into the parallel world called the Source, to establish a base.  Fortress Frontier follows the renegade Oscar Britton and a new character, Colonel Alan Bookbinder, as they deal with the consequences of this base being cut off from Earth.

Pros:  Cole brings the knowledge and sense of realism of military and special forces veteran (which he is).  His writing is descriptive and effective, and his sense of the various genres – sci-fi, fantasy, military thrillers, comic books – meld together well.  Col. Bookbinder as a lead character will grow on you.

Cons:  The initial decision to move away from Oscar (lead character in the first book) was a little frustrating, and the first few chapters with Bookbinder could have moved quicker.

Review:  The second book in the Shadow Ops series, Fortress Frontier, picks up in the immediate aftermath of Control Point (reviewed here) and actually moves back in time slightly to introduce Colonel Alan Bookbinder.  Bookbinder is a career officer and logistics expert in the Pentagon.  He’s no ground-pounder, as we quickly realize, but one of those competent professionals who keep the tanks fueled, the laptops charged, and the ammo tallied.  But Bookbinder’s life changes rapidly when he comes up latent as a potential magic-user.

Cole weaves in the background and sets up the magic system established previously, with less than 1% of humanity (in a very X-Men mutant-like scenario) discovering they can manipulate other-worldly forces:  magic.  These abilities are organized along basic schools, like elemental (fire, water, earth, air), animal control, shape-shifting, and *other.  Bookbinder doesn’t seem to have a school; he only exhibits an ability to tap and channel magical energy, but because of this the military quickly reads him into its Top Secret magical program and sets him up for training.

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Books: Dawnthief

In Brief:  James Barclay’s Dawnthief features a band of mercenaries in sword-and-sorcery style adventure.  The characters are hard men (and women), loyal to each other first, who find themselves drawn into a great conflict with darker forces in the land.

Pros:  Barclay has a good command of military history, and his system of magic is consistent.  A good sense of history, solid characters, and an eye for avoiding cliches make this a an effective first effort.

Cons:  The beginning chapters are messy – perhaps due to a switching p.o.v. style that is somewhat troublesome.  The logic behind the penultimate spell at the heart of the story is a little sketchy.

Review:  Dawnthief introduces a band of mercenary soldiers known as the Raven.  A small but intensely loyal group who earns their money fighting the small wars between the nobles of Balaia.  Their code is simple:  they don’t do assassinations and they always put the members of the Raven first.

We meet them marshaling the defense of a small castle outpost – a simple enough mission that goes sideways when a mage from the College of Xetesk called Denser appears.  The mercenaries follow him in an attempt to stop him, losing one of their number in the process.  They find themselves in an alternate dimension, where Hirad, one of their leaders, confronts an ancient guardian and inadvertently helps Denser steal an important magic talisman – one of the key components for the spell, Dawnthief. Continue reading

Books: Control Point

In Brief:  Myke Cole’s first novel in his Shadow Ops series introduces a world where people suddenly begin manifesting magical talents.  When Lieutenant Oscar Britton show his wizard’s chops, he soon learns how far the U.S. Government and Military will go to control this new power.

Pros: Excellent and well-conceived scenario building and magic extrapolation blended with the military sci-fi tradition.  The author’s military research and experience and familiarity with other similarly-themed stories provide weight, as does the solid characterization.

Cons:  Oscar Britton is a sympathetic likable dude, but he spends too long waffling and deciding on an eventual course of action.  Not coincidentally, the plot does stall somewhat in the middle of the book.  Also – and this is directed at the publisher, Ace – my paperback copy came unglued and fell apart completely in less than two weeks.

Review:    The excellent Sci-Fi Signal Podcast pointed me to Control Point, listening to Myke Cole on a panel discussion about the state of Military Sci-Fi.  A small plug for his own work and appreciation by other panel members was enough for me to seek out this book.  The cover, with its “Blackhawk Down Meets the X-Men’ blurb sealed the deal.

Cole is an Iraq War veteran and an old-school comic book and Dungeons & Dragons fan.  This is my guy.  Reading Control Point gave me the sense of an author who grew up with the X-Men, read Ender’s Game, Armor, maybe some Starship Troopers.  Throw in Guardians of the Flame and the old magic-cyberpunk mashup RPG,Shadowrun for good measure.  The author is definitely familiar with the conventions and pitfalls of this particular corner of the speculative fiction world, and I appreciated that from the outset.

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