Book Review: Trial By Fire

I’m back and finally making a start on the expansive collection of Fandemonium-published Stargate novels!

For the purposes of this project, I’ve chosen to read the novels in the order they were published, rather than where they would sit chronologically within the franchise. So, without further ado…

Blurb

Tyros – an ancient society teetering on the brink of war.

A pious people, the Tyreans are devoted to the Canaanite deity, Meleq. When their spiritual leader is savagely murdered during a mission of peace, they beg SG-1 for help against their sworn enemies, the Phrygians.

Initially reluctant to get involved the team have no choice when Colonel Jack O’Neill is abducted. O’Neill soon discovers his only hope of escape is to join the ruthless Phrygians – if he can survive their barbaric initiation rite. As Dr Daniel Jackson, Major Samantha Carter and Teal’c race to his rescue, they find themselves embroiled in a war of shifting allegiances, where truth has many shades and nothing is as it seems.

And, unbeknownst to them all, an old enemy is hiding in the shadows…

Synopsis (** SPOILER ALERT! **)

The story starts on Thanksgiving weekend with Daniel Jackson partaking in a one-man, not quite official, archaeological dig in New Mexico when he makes a rather significant discovery. A similar discovery has also recently been made by an Oxford University-based team in Tunisia, and results in Daniel contacting the leader of that dig – Professor (Doctor) Siobhan Kelly. It turns out the two have crossed paths before and aren’t on the best of terms (although I don’t think Prof Kelly is on good terms with anyone, but more on that later).

Unsurprisingly, Kelly talks her way onto a mission with SG-1 to P2X 159 (or Tyros) and it doesn’t take long for things to go wrong. Tyros, it turns out, is very similar to ancient Phoenicia. Its people (the Tyreans) appear peaceful but then it’s revealed that they regularly send their children to serve the deity Meleq. The discovery of child sacrifice, naturally, sits uneasily with the team.

No longer wanting to send their children away, the Tyreans decide to send a delegation to their enemies – the Phrygians – to try and peacefully come to a new arrangement. The leader of the Tyrean delegation, however, is murdered and the children that were destined to serve Meleq are abducted. SG-1 quickly agree to get involved and retrieve the missing children. In the meantime, the Tyreans decide to send more of their children to Meleq’s temple to try and keep his supposed anger at bay. The Phrygians subsequently take these children too – plus Colonel O’Neill and Professor Kelly. 

The rest of SG-1 join the Tyreans to try and recover their leader, not knowing that they’ve just been thrown into the middle of a holy war. And O’Neill has now joined the enemy. 

Only it turns out the enemy isn’t the enemy at all; the Phrygians have actually been abducting the Tyrean children in order to save them. Why? Well, it turns out that Meleq is a Goa’uld, and that Goa’uld turns out to be Ba’al. 

As the team is reunited, there’s a lack of trust between various members, but as truths start to surface and a rebellion is planned, Ba’al himself decides to make an appearance.

Review 

Trial By Fire isn’t a bad start to the Fandemonium venture, and I did find myself enjoying the book, but there were a few things that could have made it better.

The story is set shortly after the events of season 7s ‘Fallen’ and ‘Homecoming’ as there are references to Vis Uban and Daniel having recently re-joined SG-1 (even though some of his memories still allude him). 

From the outset, it’s clear Sabine knows the show; there are references to previous episodes and Jack’s cabin (even Joseph Mallozzi gets a mention courtesy of a Window of Opportunity reference) while the characters interact in a way that’s pretty close to their TV counterparts. But this accuracy gets lost in the latter half of the story with Jack, in particular, portrayed strangely. For example, he decides that if he doesn’t talk about his time being tortured by Ba’al (season 6 Abyss), he can kid himself that it therefore didn’t happen – which sounds like something his character would say – but then he suddenly starts sharing his trauma with a complete stranger. He also doubts his team over one particular incident – and virtually accuses them of murder – which creates further division. Maybe this was intentional on Sabine’s part as the team tries to find its footing again with Daniel’s reappearance but it didn’t quite work.

Sticking with characters for a moment longer, I did not see the point of having Professor Kelly as part of this book at all. She is condescending, argumentative, and super annoying. Throughout the novel she never does what she’s told; she doesn’t grow as a character; and she shows no real redeeming qualities. Even the way she speaks to Hammond and SG-1 is rude and yet none of them pull her on it? It makes her such a horrible character who just gets in the way and manages to successfully ruin any potential enjoyment of the story.

As I mentioned earlier, there are references to Abyss from the beginning of Trial By Fire, so you’ve an early idea that it’s going to be a key theme in the book, and while a lot of the references to Ba’al are courtesy of Jack (and Daniel’s) inner thoughts, Sabine doesn’t fully delve into the subject. There is enough to suggest Jack is suffering with PTSD but it’s not fully addressed; rather, those around him seem to want to ‘baby’ him and not mention the word ‘Ba’al’ around the colonel. The introduction of Ba’al to Tyros was also something that didn’t fit which is a real shame. It was an interesting twist but it’s thrown in at the very end of the novel so isn’t developed. There’s an insinuation that Ba’al doesn’t even realise Jack O’Neill is standing just a few feet away. After the events of Abyss, I find that scenario hard to believe. 

Sabine also likes to change perspective when she’s writing (it happens a lot) and it is difficult to figure out who is actually speaking; it could be a few sentences before she clarifies the character that is narrating. 

A teeny tiny continuity error can be found in the final chapter too when Colonel Reynolds is referred to as a Marine, yet he’s actually in the Air Force. 

Lastly, for the Sam/Jack shippers out there, I’m going to finish on a positive note. There are some interesting insights from both characters in this book. For example, you’ve Sam regretting the opportunity to see her CO running around in his boxers, while Jack also scolds himself for thinking about Carter’s anatomy…

These aren’t necessarily ground-breaking revelations, but there are moments littered throughout Trial By Fire to be enough for the shippers and – much like the show – these are as much as canon will allow.

Overall, it’s a more enjoyable and much more accurate read than the ROC-published novels. 

Chevron Rating: 5/7

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