If you are hunting for some larger scale, thought-provoking read, search no more, the Executive Office trilogy is exactly what you need. But before you start to read, I have to mention that you will need an above average understanding of American political and election system along with the American political approach of the Near-East and the attitude and taken steps towards it (the Afghan and Iraqi wars, civil war in Syria etc.)
I’m now reading the books for the 2nd time, and I still have come cross with some internal and external political aspects that I had to check, for example, definitions, abbreviations, alphabet agencies, political events etc. But as long as Google and Wikipedia is among my best friends, and the kindle Wikipedia app is also good at providing information, it is not really a bother.
I hope no-one will change their mind due to my little disclaimer, and you will find this post interesting enough to give the four books of the trilogy a try. Yeah, you read it right. FOUR books. The series contains the three books of the main story: Enemies of The State, Enemy of My Enemy and Enemy Within, completed by a bonus Christmas volume: Interlude, which is taking place between Enemies of the State and Enemy of My Enemy. These books will take some time to read because of their extent counting at least 400 pages each (except for the bonus volume).
I’ll try to write as spoiler-free about these books as possible, but I just can’t omit some story parts when speaking about some aspects of the books’ events or characters. But before the story summary – as vague as possible – let’s try to determine when this story is taking place. And it’s not an easy question to answer.
Right above the Prologue, we find the remark “In the near future.” Well. When is this near future? I tried to decipher the date. I think that the story takes place in the late 2030s or in the early 2040s. But what we get are just oblique references of the actual date, what are mentioned clearly are the events of the past like the Afghan and Iraqi wars, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, mentions of certain pop songs and the age of certain characters. I tried to figure out the actual date based on those information.
But something still didn’t add up. After the Russian president, Sergey Puchkov comes forth and we get to know him better, we are rewarded by morsels of information about him. Like the fact that he was a teenager/young adult, still a fresh face in the KGB when the Soviet Union had disintegrated. And he is 52 years old now. Based on this, we can conclude that he couldn’t be older than 20 in 1991 at the official dissolution of the Soviet Union, so he was born around 1972, therefore the actual year is approximately 2024. Let’s leave it be, it may be important only to me.
Update on this matter:
I’ve just finished re-reading Ascendent, and in this book we are told that Sasha was born in 2000. And he’s 35, so mystery solved, the story takes place around 2035. And… my original hunch was quite right. 🧐
Regarding the structure of the books, every event in the chain leads to the next, exerting its consequences. So it won’t be an easy ride, you won’t be able to relax until you finish all four books. You won’t even breath you’ll be so dumbstruck by some of the plot twists. Only in Interlude will you get a chance to catch your breath. Even if it is a Christmas special, you will get some essential info/plot point from there, so I recommend reading it right after Enemies of the State without waiting till next Christmas. And now let’s see the books in order.
Enemies of the State
We step into the story right after the American elections, and we follow Ethan Reichenbach, leader of the presidential protection detail, as he’s watching over president-elect Jack Spiers. Jack is alone in the White House, his only company being Ethan and the other Secret Service agents unfortunate enough to being on duty during Christmas. And the reason for Jack being alone at Christmas is that he had lost his wife 15 years prior to the book events. She was killed in action during the Iraqi war.
But back to Jack. Jack has an exuberant, gregarious personality, he cannot stand being alone. So he does his best to befriend Ethan and the other Secret Service agents, while being totally oblivious of the rules binding them. The most important rule among them strictly forbids all and each unnecessary contact with the protectees diminishing the chance of being emotionally compromised. But Jack being 100% himself, doesn’t give a damn about the rules, turning Ethan first to his best friend, then falling in love with him. And we can follow the development of their relationship in an already volatile political situation where any (not necessarily political) misstep can be disastrous not only for Jack and Ethan, but for America and her allies also.
In the first part of the book we have two main storylines. The first storyline describes Jack’ attempts to fit in the presidential shoe, he tries his best to stabilize the world and mend political relationships aggravated by his predecessors’ actions or by lack of interest, to win back trust. As his popularity skyrockets, his private life becomes non-existent, Jack continuously struggles with his loneliness. The other storyline is about the development of Jack and Ethan’s relationship.
But the real rollercoaster ride begins at the middle of the book, and believe me, the events won’t decelerate just because you cannot catch your breath. When I first read this book, I literally couldn’t put down my phone or Kindle. When I was at work, I escaped to the restroom in order to steal another 10 or 15 minutes with Jack and Ethan.
And when the first book ends, you’re lulled into a false sense of safety, that all is good, the world is almost entirely normal again. You try to clutch this false stability regardless of the tingling feeling of foreboding in the back of your head.
Compared to the first volume, Interlude is much more easy-going, describing Ethan’s exile in Iowa, Des Moines. I really liked this book (and Christmas being my favorite holiday has nothing to do with this.) The counterfeiting case involving the other agencies. Jack and Ethan’s long-distance relationship, the press hunting Ethan, his inability/involuntariness to communicate or try to befriend other agents. This book was a well-composed interlude.
This was the only book where I had found incoherencies. Tal had written this book after the original books of the trilogy as a reprise of Jack and Ethan’s relationship. Therefore at some points events aren’t fitting as well as in the main books, even if the really important plot points are as perfect as we can expect from Tal. The incoherencies elaborated below do not bother me so much after all, because we get a proper closing.
For example this is the case for Ethan’s parter during his exile in the Des Moines Secret Service office. Becker is never mentioned in the main books, not even once. And when Ethan makes up his mind to accept a new role at Jack’s side in the White House at the end of Enemies of the State, he leaves the office without even looking back or saying goodbye. The reason for this, is that Becker is still being transferred to an other alphabet agency (I won’t say which one, I promised no spoilers XD). After solving their case in Interlude, Ethan is offered another assignment which would mend his ruined reputation. But he refuses to accept, because that assignment is Becker’s dream job, so he asks his boss to promote him instead of Ethan. And then Becker is transferred out straight away. See? There was no-one in the office to say goodbye to.
You could ask, why did Becker get a paragraph this long, and you would be right to do so. But the answer is quite simple. I like Becker very much – the green agent, half of the age of Ethan. He says about Becker at some point in Interlude, that he was only twelve, when Ethan entered the Secret Service. It was really entertaining as their friendship had grown, at first Becker’s behavior towards Ethan was pretty much the same, as the other agents’. Ethan was a pariah among them, but he recognized the values in Ethan, the experiences he could learn and profit from. He rescued Ethan from paparazzis on several occasion. So yeah, Becker was cute and adorable.
And there was Shepard, Ethan’s boss, the special agent in charge of the Des Moines office who seemed to be a perfect ass. At first glance he was unduly cruel and unfair with Ethan. But if you think about it, you can realize, how much pain in the ass Ethan can be, and I’m not talking about his “charming” personality, I’m talking about who he is. He is the significant other of the president. Believe me, I would shit bricks, if I were unfortunate enough to have him under my watch, and it would be my responsibility to keep him safe and alive. So I can understand Shepard for not being exited about this kind of burden on his shoulders.
Enemy of My Enemy
This is the book where everything blows up, right into our faces. The first half of the book continues lulling you the same way as the ending part of the first volume. There are state balls – a dance with president Puchkov, Jack and Ethan being a 100% themselves, trying to navigate in the political storm in and outside of the US, while balancing their work and private life. Which is not especially easy after Ethan accepted the First Gentlemen status. They are verbally attacked and criticized day in and day out, everybody knowing better and judging them. This is the easier part.
But then the antagonists’ plan kicks into motion turning Jack’s world upside down. Untethered, he has to flee to his one and only true ally, president Puchkov. Two president on the run, one planet to be saved – because the enemies too are setting their aim high, the United States is not enough anymore, they want the whole world.
So yeah, if you felt Enemies of the State suffocating, you will be introduced to a whole new level of tension. Sometimes I had to turn the pages forward, to make sure they will come out at the other side, bleeding but at least alive. And they will – sort of -, ready to get everything done in the last book of the trilogy.
I won’t be saying much about this book. It is one gargantuan event, one enormous bunch of action without even letting you to let out a deep breath until the end. Plus I don’t want to spoiler any important details, so you have to believe me, this book will blow your mind. I think, this was my favorite book of the series.
As you can surmise so far, the plot structure is especially complicated, almost every time there is two storylines, the main one is naturally Jack and Ethan’s. But as the events unfold, more and more branches appear. From the second part of Enemy of My Enemy, the story divides into three (can be even more if we count the antagonists too). Following the books, we get to know three couples – they are the leading characters of the different storylines. They are all provided with unique backgrounds, they all have their separate fights to win, and they all have to deal with different cultures and get over with the most diverse kind of shocks or traumas.
I already mentioned the first couple, Jack and Ethan. They get help from the marine Adam and the Saudi crown-price Faisal (I don’t have even a single clue how is name is pronounced right), and finally Sasha enters the stage at the second third of Enemy of My Enemy to be the significant other of president Puchkov. Speaking of significant others and the pacing of their story greatly differs due to personality differences, background and the baggages they all carry. It was really good to follow their character development or the dynamism of their interpersonal relationships.
Moving so much characters on the chessboard while not losing your grip on the events, was not a small miracle given the story’s level of complexity. For me it exemplifies very well the genius of Tal Bauer’s storytelling. Yeah, you won’t feel bored, not even for once, but you won’t be able to stop reading at the end of certain chapters either.
And if your curiosity was not satisfied with these four monumental books, you can still read Tal Bauer’s free novellas here. As I mentioned before, I’m actually re-reading the series, and the novellas further supplements to the events. If you click on the link, you will find a veeery long list containing Bauer’s all free reads not just the Executive Office related ones. So you have to pick out the ones you want to read. But the title will help a great deal, and Tal time-stamped all his novellas, helping you to place more easily the free-reads in the series’ flow of event.
And one more tiny thing. For us, Hungarians is always a big thing to be mentioned in a foreign author’s books. So yeah, Hungary gets mentioned as a country threatened by Russian invasion in Enemies of the States. Jack is notified by someone of his staff, that the Russians had occupied Ukraine, and planting different kind of long-range weapons on the Hungarian border in order to keep Europe at gunpoint.
And last year all the press was full of the news Russia attacking Ukraine, so now I’m wondering about Tal’s future-telling skills XD. Maybe his works would make you wonder too. But to figure this out or to know more about his future visions, you have to read the Executive Office, then continue with the 1st book of the Executive Power series, Ascendent.