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  • Writer's pictureSara Bond

Pairings Project: SHROUDED LOYALTIES by Reese Hogan

TLDR: SHROUDED LOYALTIES is a dark accounting of war and deception, with submarines, Lovecraftian monsters, and characters who are honestly rendered, even as they lie to each other and themselves.

Inevitably, war is based on deception. No matter how justified the cause for sending soldiers, no matter how righteous the fight, deception underlies nearly every course of action in war. Leaders lie about the costs that will be incurred, both in lives lost, funds squandered, and potential economic progress missed. Commanders lie about tactics, about risks. And soldiers absolutely must lie, at least to themselves, about the humanity and value of the lives of their enemies, about whether they can shoulder the burden and cost of taking lives, about the risks they face, and about the likelihood that they will all come home whole.

Military science fiction often fails to neglect this fundamental (un)truth about war. It is so frequently devoted to tactics, to action, to the relentless messy facts about war that it fails to grapple with the deception that undercuts it. Reese Hogan cuts to the heart of it, though, with a brilliant military sci-fi, Lovecraftian spy thriller. With SHROUDED LOYALTIES, Hogan has laid bare the tolls of deception, all while crafting a darkly enjoyable action story.

The brief summary: As it travels through an alternate realm, a submarine is attacked by unseen monsters, leaving an officer and one of her sailors marked with metal embedded in their skin. As they attempt to get to the bottom of what happened in the depths, they are together forced to reckon with the lies they have told and been told. When these mysterious marks begin to manifest new powers, these two soldiers find themselves at the center of a conflict that extends beyond their world: there are monsters in the deep, yes, but there may be more in their own ranks.

The main characters are Chief Sea Officer Mila Blackwood, her brilliant but hesitant brother Andrew, and the spy in their midst. It’s hard to say which viewpoint character lies more. Blackwood lies to herself and those around her about the culture she wants to protect as well as her own reasons for joining the war effort. To preserve order, she lies to her subordinates about her own confidence, she lies to her brother about her ability to protect him and her willingness to even do so, and as the novel progresses, she finds more secrets she must keep and lie to protect. Mila’s brother Andrew engages in his own deceptions, about his clandestine relationship with an enemy civilian, about his secret research into the deaths of his parents and their discoveries into an emerging technology and the mythos surrounding it, and about his own ability to cope with his world as its ripped apart.

And then there’s the spy, who I can’t even go into without revealing any number of secrets they are hiding from their superior officers, their compatriots, and the Blackwoods. The spy, too, may be the character most invested in self-deception, from the truths about their country and culture, their devotion to the cause they serve, and the reason they got involved in this war in the first place.

SHROUDED LOYALTIES does not shy away from the hard truths, but it never once preaches or strays into moralism. Hogan does a generous job of showing opposing cultures at their best and their worst, giving each a chance to defend their goals, and showing the difficulties of awarding the roles of good guys and bad guys in any honest accounting of war. This is partly done by exceptional world-building and painfully realistic characters, but it mostly to the credit of Hogan’s allowing the story to evolve organically and honestly.

This is not a feel-good novel, but SHROUDED LOYALTIES offers an immersive escape. It introduces a diesel/steampunk vibe, with unique technologies, while also giving us monsters that would not be out of place in a horror novel. The alternate realms and monsters of the book have shadows of Lovecraft, but the assertive viewpoint and direct narrative of action and character are all the author’s own.

At times, SHROUDED LOYALTIES is a hard read. It’s not an easy weekend jaunt through space with the occasional laser battle. It is gritty, dark, and even claustrophobic. But it is also a brilliant and thought-provoking book that grabs you by the throat and demands that you think, by refusing to give easy answers. I look forward to more challenging reads from Hogan in the future. Maybe even a sequel?

TLDR: SHROUDED LOYALTIES is a dark accounting of war and deception, with submarines, Lovecraftian monsters, and characters who are honestly rendered, even as they lie to each other and themselves.

Scroll down for my cocktail pairing for SHROUDED LOYALTIES.

Typically, I use two main criteria when selecting my cocktail pairings. First, I select the base liquor. A good bartender can change the flavor profile of any liquor, but I am only middling at best. I like mixers that flatter and enhance the base liquor rather than mask it, so choosing the base can really determine the way the drink affects me. There’s something distinct about a vodka drink from a whiskey drink, no matter what Chumbawumba implies (dated reference FTW!).

Second—and this may be silly, but as a writer words matter— I pay attention to the name. If the name is evocative enough, I’m all about it. I have an entire backlog of sexual innuendo-named drinks ready for when a bunch of my friends’ romance books come out later this year.

So for SHROUDED LOYALTIES I knew I wanted a good brandy drink. There were enough dark undertones and themes (betrayal, war, deception) that anything light would be off-putting and incongruent. Despite that, it wasn’t quite bleak enough or militaristic enough for a whiskey drink. SHROUDED LOYALTIES was much more of a spy-thriller-sci-fi mash-up than a straight-up military SF. So brandy hits the right mid-point between hard-hitting whiskey and fun-times rum.

Looking through my bartender’s bible, I found a drink I’d never tried before. Called The Depth Bomb.

Come on. For a submarine-based spy-thriller? It’s perfect. (Plus I had all the ingredients on hand.)

Without further ado, I give you the perfect pairing for SHROUDED LOYALTIES.

The Depth Bomb

1 oz Calvados (or Applejack)

1 oz brandy (or Cognac)

1/4 oz fresh lemon juice

dash of grenadine

Mix all ingredients together. Shake vigorously with ice. Strain into cocktail glass (I changed glasses between shots for one that photographed better). Garnish with lemon peel or an apple slice.

I was not in love with the original recipe I tried, so I adjusted it with some experimentation with the proportions. The original had 3/4 of the brandies to 1/4 of the lemon juice, and I felt the lemon juice was a bit too assertive against the Calvados. A full ounce of each of the brandies mitigates this tartness and achieves a better balance. If you want a sweeter drink, add up to a 1/4 oz of grenadine.

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