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Review: Shrouded Loyalties

Review: Shrouded Loyalties

Full disclosure: I am acquainted with the author. I won this advance reader's copy of the book from a contest on the author’s Twitter.

War novels are a tough sell for me. Nation-level conflict often loses a lot of the heart that a novel needs in order to hold my attention. Authors often spend too much time describing political motivations and the movements of armies, forgetting to ground their stories in characters you can wrap your arms around. Reese Hogan doesn't. Shrouded Loyalties is a character-first exploration of war. In the fine company of works like City of Thieves and Slaughterhouse Five, Shrouded Loyalties gives you the full complexity of the conflict happening around the characters while still focusing on the people caught up in it, whose personal struggles never scratch their way to the national concern. Who are you, and what's important to you when someone puts a gun in your hands and points you at the enemy?

Mila Blackwood lives in a world of secrets. She’s determined to keep safe her country’s most valuable secret – shrouding, the ability to travel across the planet in seconds. But enemies are everywhere, and spies lurk even in the seeming safety of her posting on a submarine testing out this new technology. When shrouding leads to an encounter with otherworldly monstrosities, it throws Mila’s life deeper into madness when she and a shipmate gain supernatural abilities that could end the war – but for which side? As Blackwood tries to return home, she discovers that there are few she can trust, her brother has been seduced by an enemy soldier, and the armies of Dhavnak are encircling her beleaguered country.

Mila's struggle with anger is maybe the least likable part of this journey. Her parents' death and the need to provide for her younger brother left her with a grating personality and a tendency to lash out. The author sets this against her brother’s search for identity, fending for himself while Mila goes off to fight the people she blames for their parents' death. These two people, so different and yet bound by family ties, have a beautiful, painful relationship that spans the novel. Each one so clearly can’t understand the other, and their personal misunderstandings parallel the spiraling violence of the war around them.

The star of the novel is Mila’s shipmate and subordinate. With even more secrets to keep then Mila, Holland is the beating heart of the story. Her search for herself in her role on the battlefield and in her home country kept me turning page after page late at night as I devoured this novel. I would be more specific, but I feel that Holland’s journey is so key to enjoying the story that I hesitate to share details.

And there are many details. Cosmic horror, as shrouding is revealed to be not as safe as believed. A tense spy thriller. A twisted love story. Every layer fits together to form one of those rare novels that checks a lot of boxes and balances them all through a tight personal story that focuses on character first but maintains a bright, complex setting.

This is a novel that grabbed me by the heart, from a genre I usually do not prefer, a remarkable feat for a debut author. I’m excited to see the future of this series and all future books from Reese Hogan. Shrouded Loyalties gets a full five out of five.

You can also hear a discussion about this book on the Fantasy Book of the Month podcast.

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