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Exclusive Interview: “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Dragonfire” Author James Swallow


While it may be a while before we get to take control of Splinter Cell hero Sam Fisher, the iconic video game hero isn’t just sitting around the house, watching TV. In the following email interview, writer James Swallow discusses Sam’s latest outing in novel form, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Dragonfire (paperback, Kindle, audiobook).

James Swallow Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Dragonfire

To start, what is Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Dragonfire about, and when does it take place in relation to both the games and your previous Splinter Cell novel, Firewall?

For veteran Splinter Cell operative Sam Fisher, Dragonfire begins as a high-stakes stealth mission inside the borders of the hermit nation of North Korea, but unexpectedly spirals out of control. Abandoned by his government, disavowed by the top-secret Fourth Echelon program, and hunted by a remorseless enemy, Sam must adapt, improvise, and call on all his skills to survive.

A world away, inside the Splinter Cell team, lines of loyalty are tested to their limits as Sam’s daughter Sarah races to track down her missing-in-action father before his luck runs out. Together, they must fight to expose the sinister scheme of the conspirators known as “The Dragons,” and stop a deadly chain of events exploding across the two Koreas — or millions will die.

In relation to the Splinter Cell stories that have come before, Dragonfire takes place after the events of Firewall, which in turn takes place after the last game, Splinter Cell: Blacklist.

And is there any connection between your Splinter Cell novels and the ones Thomas Parrott has written about the Tom Clancy game, The Division: Recruited and Compromised [which you can read more about here and here]?

There’s no direct connection between my S.C. novels and Thomas’s Division stories — firstly, because The Division‘s narrative takes place in a different continuity from the Splinter Cell stories, after a global pandemic event. Though the Strategic Homeland Division from the Division stories does exist in the Splinter Cell timeline, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give it a name-check.

That said, I’d be remiss not to add that Thomas is doing great work with his Division books.

As for other Tom Clancy’s franchises, there are nods to Rainbow Six in the novels, and a character from the Ghost Recon series plays a supporting role in Dragonfire.

So where did you get the idea for Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Dragonfire?

One signature element of Sam Fisher in the games is his hi-tech gear, and I started thinking how he might fare without it, and what kind of challenge that would put to him. I had this concept of Sam trapped behind enemy lines, stripped of his usual hardware, and having to use his skills and ingenuity to re-create his kit with whatever he could find, steal, or modify. The story of Dragonfire was built out from that initial image.

And how many people have made jokes about how The Lord Of The Rings would’ve been a novella if The One Ring had been given to Sam Fisher?

Those people have all vanished under mysterious circumstances.

On a more serious note, why did you decide to set Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Dragonfire in North Korea as opposed to in Iran, Russia, or some other country where a member of the American military would not be welcome?

We discussed a number of options about the location for Dragonfire‘s action, but ultimately the “Hermit Kingdom” of North Korea was felt to be the best fit for this story. It also presented an opportunity to call back to the events of the 2005 video game Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, some which also took place in Korea.

Now, in the interview we did about Star Trek: The Original Series: The Latter Fire, we were talking about writing tie-in novels, and you said, “…you don’t do the job if you don’t already know where the walls are. You have to respect that…” But in writing Dragonfire, did you ever try to push the walls a little?

Ubisoft, the creators of the Splinter Cell franchise, were generous in giving me a lot of leeway to put together the storyline for Dragonfire, so I didn’t feel that restricted. The only red lines were in terms of some continuity and character elements they wanted definitely me to include, but even then, the conversations were amicable.

And did it matter at all that there hasn’t been a new Splinter Cell game since 2013’s Blacklist? Sure, there’s a remake of the first game coming out, but I was wondering if there not being a new game in the works — as far as we know — if that freed you up at all with what you could do, or if that didn’t matter, Ubisoft still kept a close watch on what you wanted to do to Sam?

Given the amount of work going into it, I would definitely consider the forthcoming remake of the original Splinter Cell to be a “new game” for all intents and purposes, from my understanding it’s much more than just a port of an old title.


But to your point about Blacklist — having that narrative gap between games certainly made is easier to slot in a new story for the novels, but Ubisoft were still heavily involved in the process. I worked closely with people like Lauren Stone, Richard Dansky, and Etienne Bouvier on the concepts for Firewall and Dragonfire, and we talked a lot about tying in the novels to existing Splinter Cell continuity and future projects like the Netflix Splinter Cell animated series.

The Splinter Cell games are all spy action games; is Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Dragonfire in the same vein, or are there any genres at work in this story as well?

“Espionage action thriller” pretty much sums it up.

You’ve written dozens of novels over the years. But are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that a big influence on Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Dragonfire but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Firewall?

Obviously, the work of Tom Clancy himself is a big influence, especially his blend of engaging characters, high drama, and technothriller flair. Beyond that, I’d say the writers on the previous Splinter Cell games and novels — J.T. Petty, Clint Hocking, Mike Lee, Matt MacLennan, Raymond Benson, Grant Blackwood, and Peter Telep — were all on my mind.

How about non-literary influences; do you think Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Dragonfire was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Well, games other than the Splinter Cell ones, that is.

Nothing specific comes to mind.

Speaking of games, you’ve written for a couple, including, fittingly, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, The Division 2 and the upcoming Division sequel The Division: Heartland. How, if at all, do you think working on the script for a game influenced either what you wrote in Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Dragonfire or how you wrote it?

Having had experience writing for three game titles in under the “Tom Clancy’s” banner helped me find the tone and pace for writing a Splinter Cell story — but ultimately writing game scripts and game narrative is very different from writing a prose novel. Different mediums require different skillsets.

And then, to flip things around, do you think Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Dragonfire could work as the basis for a Splinter Cell game? Or part of one?

There are certainly some parts of the Dragonfire narrative that could be translated into a Splinter Cell gaming experience, but ultimately prose fiction is designed to be a linear story, and that would probably work better on the screen, if one were to adapt it to another medium.

James Swallow Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Dragonfire

Finally, if someone enjoys Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Dragonfire, they’ll probably read Firewall if they haven’t already. But once they’ve done that, which of your original novels would you suggest they read?

I’d suggest checking out Nomad, the first of my Marc Dane action thriller series [which you can read more about here]. Or if you prefer a stand-alone tale, try my most recent novel Airside.



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