LAST TO RISE by Francis Knight

Francis Knight’s Rojan Dijon series may have had some issues, but it certainly finished strong with LAST TO RISE.

Throughout the series, it always felt as though Knight had some difficulty with her protagonist, Rojan. He was consistently described as a selfish, grouchy bastard, but the character we got to know throughout the trilogy wasn’t as bad as everyone made him out to be. Sure, his constant complaints about religion and class differences grew tiresome, but while they consistently talked about how irresponsible Rojan was, he was also constantly stepping up, and he seemed to be stepping up from the very beginning. That disconnect wasn’t enough to ruin the book for me, but it was disconcerting at times.

Fortunately, Knight finished the book strong with a powerful ending that was perfect for this world and this character. The themes of religion, sacrifice and heroism weren’t subtle throughout the trilogy, and at times Knight beat those ideas over my head to the point of annoyance, but the ending tied all those themes together and really did an excellent job of pulling the whole story together.

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BEFORE THE FALL by Francis Knight

BEFORE THE FALL by Francis Knight and CONTROL POINT by Myke Cole are very different fantasy books — BEFORE THE FALL is an urban noir fantasy, while CONTROL POINT is a military fantasy — but in reading BEFORE THE FALL, I’m reminded of the way I felt after reading CONTROL POINT.

In Cole’s first SHADOW OPS book, I wasn’t a fan of the protagonist, Oscar Britton, but saw a lot of promise in the world and the storytelling. In Knight’s series, the protagonist, Rojan, is also problematic. Rojan is described as an irresponsible womanizer, but we never really see any of this. Through the first two books, I believe he only sleeps with one woman, and the other characters consistently look to him to handle many of their problems, which he does. Rather than showing us how irresponsible Rojan is, we get page after page of Rojan telling us he’s irresponsible and how much he hates organized religion and rich people. By the second book, it’s become very repetitive, and while the character seems to have grown through his experiences, I’d love to see him move on to different talking points.

That being said, I really like the world despite some of the unevenness. Knight has fleshed out the city a little bit, adding details that help explain some confusing aspects from the previous book, and while I don’t always enjoy Rojan, I do like many of the characters around him, especially Jake, Pasha, Erlat and Lise.

It probably falls a bit short of being great, but it was a fast read and I’ll see how it ends with the third book in the trilogy.

SHADOW OPS: BREACH ZONE by Myke Cole

It wasn’t until after I completed BREACH ZONE and I read a few others’ comments that I realized the SHADOW OPS books were a trilogy and that BREACH ZONE marked the end of the SHADOW OPS series (though Myke was kind enough to mention on a Fantasy-Faction.com thread that he will continue writing books within this universe).

I’ll admit, I’m surprised that BREACH ZONE marks the end of the story — to me, it reads more like a middle or penultimate book than the ultimate conclusion of this story. Maybe it’s that Cole has created a world that doesn’t lend itself to pat, tidy conclusions that makes me feel this way.

First, the positives:

Once again,this was a well-written story. As with the first two books, there’s a lot of military jargon thrown around, and it took me a few pages to immerse myself once again not only in the world, but in the way many of the military characters speak. I was able to quickly adapt, and once I learned the lingo (it’s almost always fairly obvious due to context), it actually adds to my enjoyment of the book because it’s so different from anything else I typically read.

The action comes fast and furious, continuing the trend from the previous two books, and I like the way Cole’s books study the way that systems and rules and procedures impact people in real life, and how those people respond when they realize that the rules and systems around them either don’t work. Cole also explores the flip side, as some who spur the rules come to realize that some of those guidelines are there. It’s a thoughtful look at the structure of government and the military, and I appreciated that.

Making government systems a strong theme in these books interested me on an intellectual level, but I don’t know that it inspired much passion. Sure, BREACH ZONE features the face-off between our heroes and Scylla, and Cole does a good job of creating a backstory between Harlequin and Scylla throughout the book, but near the end there’s a lot of discussion about the laws governing magic use, and feels like the conclusion misses the emotional gut punch I would have liked to have received. It didn’t feel like the final book in a trilogy, and I wish it had.

That being said, I recommend all three of Cole’s SHADOW OPS books. Contrary to most series, I actually think the second one — FORTRESS FRONTIER — was the best of the bunch, but all three are worth the read.