It’s been said that an army travels on their stomach. But in her new military sci-fi novel Shrouded Loyalties (paperback, Kindle), writer Reese Hogan gives us an army that travels on their stomach…through a parallel dimension infested with monsters. In the following email interview, Hogan discusses what inspired and influenced this story.
Photo Credit: Alan Osterholtz
Let’s begin with a summary of the plot. What is Shrouded Loyalties about?
In the last days before being conquered by Dhavnakir, the country of Belzen survives with the newly discovered shrouding technology — a system allowing them to travel across the planet in seconds through an alternate realm inhabited by monsters. Chief Sea Officer Blackwood is more familiar with shrouding than she ever wanted to be. Her parents died researching it, and keeping it out of enemy hands has become her life. When a creature from the shrouding realm attacks her submarine, Blackwood’s swift action saves her crew, but leaves her with a strange mark. A mark, she discovers, that may be related to her parents’ deaths…
But Blackwood’s problems go deeper than she realizes. She doesn’t know about her partner being a spy, bent on taking the secret of shrouding back to Dhavnakir. She doesn’t know about her teenage brother being seduced by an enemy soldier or about his tentative journey into collaboration. All she knows is that her mysterious mark holds dangerous powers that might save her country, and that her partner and brother might be the only two people she can trust.
Where did you get the idea for Shrouded Loyalties, and how, if at all, did that idea change during the process of writing this novel?
I always need three ideas to come together to really get my novel off the ground. In this case, I knew I wanted to write a World War II-inspired fantasy; I wanted to have people being hunted for magical tattoos; and I wanted a soldier returning home to discover the brother she was supposed to be taking care of had become an enemy collaborator. Originally, the soldier was in the army of her home city and it was a single POV book. I ended up turning her into a submariner instead of a soldier when I realized that being farther away from her brother, Andrew, would give him the space to really distance himself from her emotionally. Early drafts of the novel had feedback about not quite believing or understanding Andrew’s reasons for feeding the enemy information. So one of my biggest changes was giving Andrew a point of view and diving deep into his reasons for doing what he does. The shrouding realm grew out of my desire to make a very strange and alien world paralleling our own, and since I wanted a good secret for Andrew to take from Blackwood, it seemed natural to build this amazing other world that was being used as a top-secret war weapon. Adding an enemy spy with a point of view seemed to go hand-in-hand with enemy collaboration, so I decided to try it on a later draft. The result was incredibly satisfying, and really brought it all together.
It sounds like Shrouded Loyalties is a military science fiction story. Or am I wrong about that?
Nope, you’re not wrong! I originally pitched it as a dieselpunk military fantasy because it does take place on a secondary world, but science fiction is just as apt a description. I wasn’t sure if the “military” part would stick because it doesn’t detail the military strategy or battles you’d see in, say, the Powder Mage series, but since two of my three POV characters are in the military, I always saw it that way. Military SFF is one of my favorite genres, and I feel honored to have made my own heartfelt contribution to it.
Shrouded Loyalties is not your first novel. Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Shrouded Loyalties but not on your previous books?
Both City Of Thieves by David Benioff and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah were extremely helpful in terms of picturing the mood and setting I was going for. In terms of characters, I was inspired by Winter Ihernglass from Django Wexler’s A Thousand Names to write my own female character disguised as a male. It’s one of my favorite tropes, and helped make his Shadow Campaigns series one of my all-time favorites.
How about non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a big influence on Shrouded Loyalties?
There were a couple shows that came out shortly after I’d started the book, but I found influence from them as I went. The first is The Man In The High Castle. There are a lot of similarities: the setting, the alternate realm of existence, the oppressors trying to take over the world, and even the points of view from the enemy. The second is Stranger Things, strictly because of the Upside Down. Mysterious monsters in alternate realms is my jam, and something you’ll definitely see in Shrouded Loyalties as well.
My biggest non-literary influence, though, is actually music. The two songs that come to mind in terms of influencing this book are In The Night by the Pet Shop Boys (which is about occupied France) and Never Surrender by the Future Idiots (which is about a teenage boy who is seduced by the wrong crowd and gets pulled in over his head).
Now, it sounds like Shrouded Loyalties could be the beginning of a series. Is that your plan?
I’m really hoping that it will be a series. This is something I will be pitching to Angry Robot soon, and I’m working on material for as we speak. Although Shrouded Loyalties started out as a book about broken characters in damaged relationships, as I explored the shrouding realm, I came up with some cool history and worldbuilding details that tied the shrouding realm and the real world together in unexpected ways. I was able to explore a lot of this in Shrouded Loyalties, but there is definitely room to find out more. I’d always pictured it as a trilogy, but given the nature of the business, I did my very best to wrap up character arcs and plot threads satisfactorily in the first book, and I plan to do the same in the proposed second one.
Earlier I asked if any movies, TV shows, or video games were a big influence on Shrouded Loyalties. But has there been any interest in adapting it into a movie, show, or game?
No, no interest yet. But that would be a lot of fun! My preference would be either a movie or TV show. I have some great settings that would translate to a big screen nicely: both the interior and exterior of a submarine; a war-torn city during a bombing; the shrouding realm, complete with huge monsters and strange sweeping landscapes and stars; and active volcanoes. I also think the episodic nature of a TV show could work well, in terms of point of view — I have three POVs, all actively opposing one another, and a TV show would really offer the chance to delve deeply into each one’s motivations and way of seeing the world.
If Shrouded Loyalties was being made into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast the other main characters?
If this was something I was involved in, I would really enjoy watching auditions and choosing whoever best fit the characters, regardless of how well they were known.
That being said, I did have a lot of fun recently putting together a mini-cast during a Twitter chat prompt for debut authors. Letitia Wright from Black Panther looked like a great choice for my MC, submariner Mila Blackwood. My spy, Klara Yana, could be well-played by Erika Linder [Below Her Mouth], who does gender disguise beautifully. I liked Myles Truitt’s look for Blackwood’s little brother Andrew, and [Gerontophilia‘s] Pier Gabriel Lajoie’s for Cu Zanthus, Andrew’s love interest and Klara Yana’s partner. And lastly, I cast David Tennant [Jessica Jones] as Klara Yana’s commander Lyanirus, because he plays an absolutely incredible villain!
Finally, if someone enjoys Shrouded Loyalties, what similar military sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I always list Django Wexler’s A Thousand Names as my top comp title, mainly because of the gender disguise storyline and the old-fashioned war setting.
But another top comp title is Robert Jackson Bennett’s The City Of Blades. And yes, this is the second one in his series, but the MC (Mulaghesh) from The City Of Blades feels like my MC thirty years older — a badass female military officer with anger issues. Also, ancient gods are featured in both mine and Bennett’s books. I actually wrote Shrouded Loyalties before ever reading The City Of Blades, and discovered it when one of my early critique partners compared my manuscript to it.
My last comp title would be A Promise Of Blood by Brian McClellan, because it deals with volcanoes, old gods, and very broken familial relationships.