Breach Zone by Myke Cole – Book Review

Breach Zone by Myke Cole
Book Review

BreachZone_Final-1I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my fantasy. I love the idea of knights and castles, djenn and ifrit, even the muskets and magic emerging recently. I never thought I could get into the idea of a military fantasy. Luckily for me Myke Cole came along and changed my mind. Except to call his Shadow Ops series, and the third book Breach Zone, only a military fantasy would be a huge disservice. It’s so much more than that.

It’s a story about love, hard decisions, identity, and so much more. Myke Cole has switched the main protagonist in each book. The perspective shifts to what was once a secondary, or unknown, character, giving a broader scope of the world as it’s seen through fresh eyes. Instead of growing bored with a character the bond can begin anew. I’ve grown connected not to a handful of characters shallowly but a range of characters in depth.

Scylla, the villain of Breach Zone is a tragic character, twisted by circumstance to be the enemy. Control Point and Fortress Frontier made Scylla out to be the worst of the worst. She is a crazed psychopath who uses her power of decay to kill and destroy. Breach Zone gives us another look at this woman, a woman named Grace.

Harlequin, the SOC aeromancer, is our guide through the third book in the Shadow Ops world. Cole has done something special in the structure of this book in giving us two stories, one set in the present the other the past, and interweaving them until they climax at the finale. It’s a tricky move and could’ve easily backfired if the stories weren’t properly balanced. Instead, I thought they were paced exceptionally. Teasing the origins of Grace/Scylla and matching those thoughts to the woman we thought we knew all along while she invades Manhattan.

Breach Zone MapBreach Zone is set almost entirely on the island of Manhattan in New York City and it’s apparent that this is Myke’s home. The Breach to the Source is on Wall St, gangs are hiding out in China Town and Tribeca, and the HQ for the defense is at Battery Park. Each was imagined so faithfully that on a recent visit to NYC, I couldn’t help but picture Gahe, Roc’s and Goblins swarming over the skyscrapers only to do battle with aeromancers and other SOC sorcerers.

Myke Cole was the author that got me to step away from “traditional” fantasy and really explore the subgenres. It’s military fantasy imagined with all the intricacies that come with magic reappearing in a modern world filled with tanks, drones, and soldiers. He’s pushing the boundaries of fantasy both in his writing structure and the level of depth and emotional connection to his characters. This is a series filled with trials and personal journeys. It’s a series that must be read. Myke Cole knows how to tell a complex story in a richly imagined world and for that I thank him and politely shout for more.

Django Wexler – Author Interview

Earlier in the month I had conducted an interview with debut author Django Wexler over at Fantasy-Faction. For those of my followers that don’t check that site very often, I bring to you the full interview for your viewing pleasure. Without much other time wasted, I bring to you..

Django Wexler!Django 1

  • First things first, if you were kidnapped by an alien overlord what would you say about yourself to convince him/her/it to spare your life? Assuming of course they had active translators.

I would suggest that my extensive knowledge of Earth history and politics (lying outrageously) would make me an excellent choice for an advisor to help subjugate the rest of my species. Then I would try “accidentally” sneezing on him/her/it and hope that H.G. Wells was right.

  • That being said, what can you say about The Thousand Names and The Shadow Campaign series that couldn’t be found in the standard book blurb?

The series has a very particular mix of magic and mundane that I personally find very appealing. I did a lot of tweaking the magic system until it felt right; the idea is that magic should be there, and important, and be part of the core of the story, but at the same time I wanted the military stuff to matter, so the magicians couldn’t be too powerful. Some series, like The Malazan Book of the Fallen, are all about pyrotechnic battles between god-like wizards—I love that stuff, but that’s not the way I wanted to go for The Shadow Campaigns, since it would make the mundane fighting kind of an afterthought.

  • What is your normal writing session like? Do you have any specific rituals or just sit in the chair and start typing?

I have a couch in my bedroom/office with a specific place I like to sit while writing. I usually write on a laptop, which actually sits in my lap—for some reason that’s the posture I’ve gotten used to. Being away from my desktop helps me get away from email, social media, etc. I also have a gallery of plushies on the table across from me to cheer me on!

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That said, I have managed to get some good writing done on vacation from time to time. All I really seem to need is my laptop and a comfortable place to sit, and maybe a pair of headphones.

  • Going forward with that, do you have a tight outline that shows you each step you’re going to take while you write or do you let the story live and breathe on its own, seeing where it will take you?

I used to be much more of a “discovery” writer, and hated outlines, but writing The Shadow Campaignshas forced me to get a bit more disciplined. It’s big enough that it becomes very difficult to just “wing it,” and I ended up doing pretty detailed outlines for The Thousand NamesThe Shadow Throne (the second book), and quite a bit of the rest of the series. In the process, I’ve learned to enjoy working from an outline a lot more than I used to.

I think the key is to view the outline as a roadmap, rather than a straightjacket. It helps avoid “potholes,” where you get to a point in the story and realize you don’t really have a way to get the plot from point A to point B—this is easy to gloss over in a vague sketch, but becomes more apparent in a scene-by-scene outline. Finding these traps in advance, while rewriting is still a matter of changing a few lines, is alot easier than running into them once you’ve already written a hundred thousand words.

  • Do you have any hidden gems of resources that you cite as a source of inspiration? Whether that’d be a book series, television show, history channel, or some other source?

I’ve written before about using real-world history as an inspiration. I don’t know if that counts as a “hidden gem,” but the idea for The Thousand Names came pretty much directly from my reading of military histories, like Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon.

Often, when I read history, I find myself imagining the characters (particularly when painted by a skilled historian) in their emotional or dramatic context. I read about a particular moment, scene, or event, and think, “Oh, man, that sounds really dramatic/emotional/intense/whatever, I want to write something like that!” By the time I get around to actually putting it in a story, the outlines of the original inspiration are completely unrecognizable, but it’s the emotional resonance I’m after.

  • After reading the prequel short story over at io9, it seems pretty safe to say that you’ve “lived” in this world for a while and have more stories than what we’ll get in the main books. Is there any chance we’ll see any more short stories like this?

I would definitely love to do some! It depends on various boring real-world factors like whether people want to read them and how much spare time I have. I also have plans for some in-universe “non-fiction” for history nerds (that is, people like me) where I can discuss Vordanai history, military organization, etc.

  • The Thousand Names is being described as gunpowder and even military fantasy. What drew you to writing in this particular style/subgenre? Are each of The Shadow Campaign books going to have a heavy military focus or will the stories branch out as we go along?

Military fantasy is probably an apt description. It’s a subgenre I’ve always liked—people like Glen Cook, S.M. Stirling, David Drake, and Bernard Cornwell are some of my favorite writers. With a title like The Shadow Campaigns, I think it’s fair to say we can expect a fair bit of campaigning to go on.

There’s a lot more to it than that, though. In the second book, The Shadow Throne, we go back to Vordan and dive into the politics surrounding the succession to the ailing king. And there’s supernatural action afoot as well. Hopefully it will have something for everyone!

  • The use of guns and gunpowder in fantasy is a relatively rare occurrence, compared to the frequency of swords and bows. What drew you to set your world in an age of technological advancement and what did that mean for your worldbuilding?

It has always seemed a little strange to me that, with all of real-life history to draw from for archetypes, the tropes of traditional fantasy focus on a very narrow area—basically Western Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries. After I read A Song of Ice and Fire, which can be taken as George R. R. Martin’s attempt to put some realism back in fantasy, I got really excited about the idea of doing a pseudo-historical piece. But I definitely didn’t want to do the knights-and-castles world that he and others had already thoroughly explored.

Once I decided I wanted it to have a military theme, the Napoleonic period was the obvious choice. Not only was I originally inspired by books like The Campaigns of Napoleon, it was just a really interesting period of history, especially militarily. Napoleon’s re-introduction of grand tactics to the stagnant battlefields of the 1700s seemed like it would make for a good story.

Worldbuilding-wise, I think it helped me get away from a lot of over-used fantasy tropes, since youdefinitely can’t just crib from Tolkien once you’ve left that basic milieu behind. There’s an almost unconscious tendency to reach for the old standards, and starting in a different place makes it harder to be lazy without realizing it.

(A warning: once you start thinking outside the knights-and-castles box, it can become addictive! My books-to-write pile has stories set in analogues of the U.S. Civil War, WWI, WWII, and on and on…)

  • Bill Gates or some other ludicrously rich person offers to fund an adaptation of your world. Which would you prefer, an HBO series such as Game of Thrones (which seems the popular choice over a feature-length film) or a video game produced from a major studio?

The TV series would be fantastic with unlimited money behind it; I imagine all those marching armies and charging horsemen would cost a fortune. I would love to see it, though I suspect it’s unlikely. I’m notagainst the idea of a feature film, either, but there does seem to be widespread agreement these days that trying to compress six hundred pages of novel into two hours of movie rarely works out very well.

A video game, though—that’s an interesting proposition. You could go a couple of different ways with it. I could see a high-concept RPG with lots of character interaction, maybe along the lines of Mass Effect in a fantasy universe. Or, as a war game, you could put together something like the Total War franchise orCrusader Kings II. (To be honest, you could probably build a pretty good mod for The Thousand Nameson an engine like Empire: Total War. If anyone wants to do this, I’d love to see it!)

  • Finally, those same aliens from question one come back, only this time they’ve also traveled from the future. What do you hope they say about your series as it stands 5-10 years from now?

Well, first of all, that it’s finished! I didn’t quite realize, when I was pitching the series, quite what a massive undertaking it would be. I had a moment where I suddenly thought, “Wow, I’ve committed to writing something like a million words over the next five years for this…” It can be a little terrifying! (But fantastically exciting, too, of course.)

Obviously I’d like for it to be well-received, too. I also sincerely hope that people point to this period as a time when fantasy broadened out a little bit, retired some of the ancient genre tropes, and explored some new ground. A lot of other authors I know are doing just that, and it’s fun to be a part of it!

I’d like to personally thank Django for taking the time to talk with me, and all of you. The first book in The Shadow Campaign series, The Thousand Names, is already out. The Shadow Throne, book two in the series is set to come out July 2014. As always you can learn more on Django’s website or follow him on Twitter.

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Breach Zone by Myke Cole – Cover Reveal

On Wednesday Myke Cole, author of the Control Point Series – Shadow Ops, Breach Zone, and Breach Zone, revealed the cover for his upcoming novel Breach Zone. Another gorgeous piece done by Michael Kormarck, Breach Zone  is in my opinion the best of the three. Giving us a wonderful look at Harlequin, lightning arcing between his hands while destruction looms in the background. Cole has already said Breach Zone will be an explosive installment in his trilogy as war comes to New York City from the Source.

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I know the adage as well as anyone, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” but I think this is one case that we’ll all be pleasantly surprised by what’s waiting for us behind this cover come January 28, 2014.

– – –

In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known.

In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.

When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil…

Elsewhere on N.Schmiedicker:

Control Point Review
Fortress Frontier Review
Interview with Myke Cole

Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole – Review

Shadow Ops:Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole – Review

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The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began 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.
….

Myke Cole gives us the sequel to one of the biggest debut successes of 2012 with Control Point. Now he’s back with Fortress Frontier, which brings new characters, schools of magic, and all around depth to the alternate world Cole imagined for his Shadow Ops series. I managed to get my hands on an advance copy and take my word for it, this is not a series you want to miss.

Cole set a breakneck pace with his first book and there were a few worried he wouldn’t be able to match the success his first book gained, but fortunately for us he excelled past expectations and delivered a book that is better in every aspect of the word.

Instead of continuing the story of the renegade Oscar Britton, Cole decides to switch gears and give us a new protagonist to follow. Alan Bookbinder. Contrary to Britton’s experiences as a soldier Bookbinder is a Grade A paper-pusher. More often dealing with paper cuts than bullet wounds. That is, until he manifests as a Latent, the term used to describe magic users in Cole’s parallel world.

Unlike Britton, Bookbinder follows the law and turns himself in to the authorities after confirming he is indeed Latent. This gives us the chance to see how the United States officially deals with Latency and casts a dividing line between Control Point and Fortress Frontier as we see both sides of the military coin. Suffice it to say, I empathize with Britton more after learning what really happens when you willingly hand yourself over to the Supernatural Operations Corps.

Cole wisely gives us a little breathing room to learn about Bookbinder before catching up and continuing with the events of Control Point. Britton’s heroic battle at the F.O.B (Forward Operating Base) and subsequent strikes against the U.S military forces is given new light as we see the true ramifications of his choice to cut the F.O.B and it’s inhabitants off from the human world.

Bookbinder is forced to leave his desk and march across the Source with a small force at his backside, intent on finding salvation for his men who are under attack from hordes of goblins. It’s here Cole’s worldbuilding shines like a beacon as we explore the Source, see new creatures, and most interestingly how a foreign country has handled the discovery of magic and the Source plane. Along the way we discover more of Bookbinder’s new magical abilities, which make him worth more than his weight in gold to certain factions.

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Myke Cole’s skills in writing have matured in leaps and bounds compared to Book 1 and I am looking forward to seeing him round out the Shadow Ops trilogy with the  final novel Breach Zone. I never thought military-fantasy would be something that would interest me but I sit here now eating a big ol’ plate of humble pie. Cole has crafted an imaginative, detailed world that any fan of fantasy would love to escape into. Read Control Point, read Fortress Frontier, and sit on the sidelines as Myke finishes Breach Zone and devour that book as well when it arrives. You will not regret it.

Control Point by Myke Cole – Review

Shadow Ops:Control Point by Myke Cole

Army Officer. Fugitive. Sorcerer.

Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with magical talents. Untrained and panicked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set everything they touch ablaze.
Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieutenant attached to the military’s Supernatural Operations Corps, his mission is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly manifests a rare and prohibited magical power, transforming him overnight from government agent to public enemy number one. The SOC knows how to handle this kind of situation: hunt him down–and take him out. Driven into an underground shadow world, Britton is about to learn that magic has changed all the rules he’s ever known, and that his life isn’t the only thing he’s fighting for.

————————————————————————————–

***

I recently was able to have the chance to read an ARC of the sequel to this book, Fortress Frontier and knew I would have to go back and do a post about the first in the series. Expect my review of Fortress sometime in January/February, closer to the publication. (But I’ll say this, it’s incredible. Read this, then pre-order Book 2. It’s well worth it.)

***

Control Point by Myke Cole is the first military fantasy book I’ve read. I’ll be honest, give me a sword and shield over an assault rifle and tactical shotgun any day of the week. But Myke Cole has done the impossible and swayed me utterly.

From the start Control Point draws you in as a reader as you are sucked into a modern-day world that’s been recently struck by The Great Reawakening, that is the rebirth of magic into the world.

I’ve read many interviews with Myke Cole and I’ve heard him say that one of the biggest inspirations for the book was to take a look at magic being reintroduced in the modern era and how the government, and ergo, the military would handle it. Cole does a spectacular job and there was an abundance of moments that gave me chills with the believability of a world were magic is restricted by government.

Oscar Britton is a military employee in a world where “Selfers,” that is people who manifest with a magical ability and do not turn themselves in, are hunted down and forced to cooperate. After an assignment to capture one such Selfer, Britton manifests in a prohibited school of magic and goes on the run, knowing first hand what happens to “probes” such as himself. What follows is a high-octane thrill ride as Britton deals with the consequences of his actions.

Now, I’m a sucker for any kind of training scene, especially when it involves magic, and Control Point does not disappoint. We’re given a fairly thorough view of the different schools of magic and what each is capable of. The scenes in which Britton learns to control his “prohibited” gate-magic and subsequently blend it with a unique form of martial arts is especially thrilling.

Control Point is especially remarkable for its realism. Myke Cole has managed to take his own experiences serving our country and write in a way that’s both relatable and understandable to a non-military reader such as myself. In particular, Cole should be given extra commendation for his portrayal of men and women thrust in a situation of war. The treatment of the indigenous species of “The Source,” an alternate plane where magic stems from, looked like it could have been ripped straight from the headlines during the war in Afghanistan.

There is also a little bit of a rush when you read about a modern Blackhawk Helicopter going toe-to-toe with a mythical Roc. This blend of the modern against fantastical is really what makes this book shine above others in the genre.

Basically, if you are a fan of any military movies or video games like Call of Duty and still wonder what it would be like to throw a fireball or call down lightning, Control Point is the next logical step. Peter V. Brett said it best on his cover blurb, “Black Hawk Down meets the X-Men.”

 

Bonus Round!

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I had a chance to read an ARC for Fortress Frontier, Book 2 of the Shadow Ops Series. Without giving too much away I can tell you that Fortress takes everything you loved from Book 1 and take it to the next level.

We get to see new characters, new schools of magic, new places and much more. Fortress Frontier is incredible and you’ll quickly get caught up in everything new Myke Cole brings to the table. Perhaps most impressive and satisfying is the look at the ramifications of Britton’s choices at the end of Book 2 and how they affect our new major character, Alan Bookbinder.

Take it from a man whose read the book, pre-order now and thank me later.