Book Review: 24: Trial by Fire


“Before London… Before CTU… Before the clock started ticking…”

That’s the tagline printed in bold lettering on the back of the newest 24 novel, Trial by Fire, and it immediately sets the scene for exactly what to expect before leafing open the first page.

Authored by Dayton Ward, Trial by Fire does not continue the events in the life of Jack Bauer after being declared a fugitive at the end of Season 8, the original series finale before that Live Another Day mess of a mini-series destroyed what felt like a perfect sendoff (in my opinion, of course). Whereas the two previous novelizations, Deadline and Rogue, took place during the post TV series timeline, Trial by Fire goes back to the beginning, before Jack’s first hellacious “day” at CTU.

The story takes place in 1994, which, chronologically speaking, falls six years before Operation Nightfall and eight years before Season 1’s California presidential primary. Jack has leveraged his Special Forces and LAPD experience to become a junior CIA agent. Portraying the alias of a former Russian soldier named Stefan Voronov, Jack is working an undercover mission to infiltrate the organization of an infamous Armenian arms dealer named Tateos Gadjoyan. As the novel begins, Jack is assuming his undercover persona as part of a team sent to the Japanese island of Okinawa to represent Gadjoyan’s crew in a deal with another arms merchant. In typical 24 fashion, the deal goes sideways and a feud between rival Japanese dealers breaks out before a greater threat is ultimately revealed. And, as always, Jack’s on his own at the center of the strife.

Trial by Fire very much is the 24 fans know and love, and yet also just a bit different at the same time. To be honest, the core plot is pretty formulaic, employing staple 24 side story elements such as the old kidnap-the-family-to-coerce-a-certain-key-figure-into-doing-things-for-the-bad-guys plot device, as well as the inevitable one man army, against all odds hero moment our boy Jack is famous for.

And of course it wouldn’t be a 24 “episode” without Jack dropping almost as many of his iconic safe-for-cable-TV expletives as he does dead bodies. By my tally, I counted twelve “damn its” and nine “son of a bitches” (just from Jack–more than any other 24 I can think of the side characters borrow heavily from Jack’s vocabulary), and a kill total north of at least twenty-five (a few other kills are kind of ambiguous as to whether they were Jack’s or by another character). Surprisingly, though, Jack only ever has to pull out the patented sleeper hold once.

Where Trial by Fire strays from the formula a little is in the way the time element is presented. The story does unfold over 24 chapters, encompassing the events that take place over a single day. However, there isn’t a direct time continuity in terms of each chapter representing an hour in the story, unlike the previous novel Rogue (I haven’t read Deadline yet) which did follow a strict timeline of one chapter equals one hour. In fact, there aren’t very many references to the time at all, which means you won’t be hearing Jack belt out one of his urgent “We’re running out of time!” exclamations. The overall story flow still feels like 24, but it doesn’t have quite the same ticking-clock sense of urgency.

Jack’s characterization is for the most part vintage Bauer badassery, though there is maybe a slightly stronger undercurrent of innocence and idealism to his attitude, further reinforcing the fact that this is Jack as he was before having endured (and been damaged/hardened by) the many personal tragedies and terrorist threats of the eight seasons of televised drama. For example, at one point Jack has an inner dialogue mentioning how despicable he finds torturous interrogation methods. Yeah, right. You’re just a champion of the Geneva Conventions, Jack. We all know how that story eventually turns out. Many times, before speaking, Jack has to remind himself to stay in character without slipping out of the Russian accent, a clever way for the author to show that Jack has not yet matured into the master undercover operative he eventually becomes as the series progresses. This literally is his trial by fire, as the title says. Brief moments also reference Jack’s wife and daughter, Teri and Kim, back home, and even subtly foreshadow what happens to his family life later in season one, which is a nice touch.

Dayton Ward does a great job of introducing readers to a younger Jack Bauer in an untold story predating the TV series. Although ultimately predictable, the story is compelling and action packed throughout, to the point where that feeling of “I’ve got to see what happens next” takes hold as the chapters fly by, just like addictively binge watching a full season of the show. If you don’t already love 24, I doubt this book will win you over. But if you’re already a member of the Jack Bauer fan club, Trial by Fire is absolutely worth a read.

Buy From: or Macmillan Publishers

Source: Review copy provided by Forge Books

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!