Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Breach Zone by Myke Cole

Reading Myke Cole's newest novel has become a bit of a New Year's tradition for me. Fortress Frontier was the first book I read in 2013, and Control Point was one of the first of 2012. This year has been no different, Breach Zone was my first novel this year and it certainly set the bar for the rest of the year. It's been awesome to watch Cole's career and work evolve over the last few years and he really knocks it out of the park with the conclusion to the Shadow Ops series. While I was expecting improvement over his last effort, Cole delivers a novel so much better than his last that there is no doubt that he's earned his place as one of the most watched authors in the genre. With pulse hammering action around every corner this novel could have become just a sequence of strung together set pieces with magic and missiles flying, but Cole layers the narrative with hard truths about duty and service, community and redemption. Breach Zone has a giant heart inside its bruised and battered chest and that's the real key to its success.

In the aftermath of the battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and the presidential impeachment that follows, Lieutenant Colonel Jan "Harlequin" Thorsson finds himself a national hero but scorned his brothers and sisters in the military.

Oscar Britton has fled into the Source, serving as the leader of a movement for Latent equality and an end to the forced servitude of the SOC. But before he can make good on his plans, Scylla emerges from the source with a army of goblins and gahze at her back. She will stop at nothing to bring a new world order into power.

With New York City under attack, it's up to Harlequin to stop a woman he once loved from destroying the system he's spent his life time defending, but to have any hope of bringing Scylla down he'll have to turn to the very people he helped imprison for help.

I have to admit that I was underwhelmed when I heard that Harlequin was the principle point of view character for the final novel in the series. The Aeromancer has been one of the principle antagonists of the series, and while he'd redeemed himself in many ways at the end of Fortress Frontier, I was hoping for more of Bookbinder or a return to a more mature and savvy Oscar Britton. In retrospect, Cole couldn't have made a wiser choice. His history with nearly all of the principle characters thus, and the revelation that he was once in love with Scylla makes Harlequin a compelling character that engenders a wide range of reactions from the cast and I'd imagine readers alike. As a career soldier, Harlequin has always been a true believer. Orders are in place to prevent emotions from causing harm to the people he's sworn to protect. He's learned the hard way, and he's stood behind the rules like a shield ever since. The evacuation of the FOB has changed his world and his iron clad faith in the chain of command is rusting. Scylla's attack only hastens the process and Harlequin must adapt his worldview or millions of people will die.

It's Harlequin's internal conflict and the story of Harlequin's doomed love affair with Scylla that are the emotional center of the novel. Cole turns Scylla from a sociopath with terrible magic to a wronged woman who's attempt to do has turned her into a monster. Comic fans will see an easy parallel to Magneto, arguably the most complexly drawn villain in the medium. Harlequin gets much needed depth here, as he struggles with his duty and his own sense of right and wrong. He suffers for his role as the face of the SOC and his treatment of the Selfers he's brought down in his career. But he learns, he grows, he changes. And it's a pleasure to watch it unfold.

Though, the other characters from the series are all woven into the ongoing conflict, this is Harlequin and Scylla's story. Bookbinder and Britton get their time to shine, as do Downer and Swift and the rest of the cast. Bookbinder's actions in the naval scenes are particularly top notch as is the revelation that Downer has thrown off her infatuation with Harlequin and is finally her own woman at last. With as diverse a cast as Cole's created, it's quite a feat that he manages to tie everything up nicely in this last volume.

As expected, Cole's military experience makes for some very realistic and exciting action scenes and I was shocked that the scope and size of the engagements never seemed to pull the action back so far that it removed the emotional core from the scene. But as much as I liked the action, it was the message of Harlequin's character arc that resonated with me the most. Harlequin's eventually realizes that in spite of all the labels and divisions that we use to define ourselves and those around us that we are all fundamentally the same and that the only way forward is together. Cole never preaches, but the message is clear. And coming from an author who's made his life about service to others, you couldn't ask for a better spokesman.

Breach Zone improved on the series in every way with high octane action, characters that grow and change as you read, and a message that actually means something. Myke Cole has outdone himself and readers who might be on the fence about military fantasy or the series conclusion, should waste no time in exploring this fantastic series.

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