The best novels with cross-dressing women in wartime

Reese Hogan Author Of Shrouded Loyalties
By Reese Hogan

Who am I?

As a nonbinary trans guy, I grew up obsessed with novels about women disguising themselves as men. I loved everything about the trope, and always felt disappointed when they had to go back to living as women. It is a trope I eagerly embraced when I wrote Shrouded Loyalties, and though I didn’t yet know the term “transgender,” I was already exploring my own gender identity through my reading and writing of this theme. The books I’ve chosen to highlight here are ones that became some of my very favorites, and also feature action-packed wartime settings like the one used in Shrouded Loyalties.


I wrote...

Shrouded Loyalties

By Reese Hogan,

Book cover of Shrouded Loyalties

What is my book about?

Naval officer Mila Blackwood is determined to keep her country’s most powerful secret – shrouding, the ability to traverse their planet in seconds through an alternate realm – out of enemy hands. But spies are everywhere: her submarine has been infiltrated by a Dhavnak agent, and her teenage brother has been seduced by an enemy soldier. When Blackwood’s submarine is attacked by a monster, she and fellow sailor, Holland, are marked with special abilities, whose manifestations could end the war – but in whose favor? Forced to submit to military scientists in her paranoid and war-torn home, Blackwood soon learns that the only people she can trust might also be the enemy.

The books I picked & why

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The Thousand Names

By Django Wexler,

Book cover of The Thousand Names

Why this book?

The Thousand Names has one of the most unique protagonists and refreshing settings I’ve seen. Winter Ihernglass is disguised as a male soldier in a world of gunpowder and muskets, and ancient demons that can be released with the right magic. I loved watching Winter advance through the ranks and prove her brilliance time and time again. She continues to disguise herself throughout the series, even as women are allowed into the army and more people become aware of her gender, leading me to believe that the look is less a disguise and more her actually living as she truly wants to: as a transgender man in a world that doesn’t yet have a name for it.


The Ventriloquists

By E. R. Ramzipoor,

Book cover of The Ventriloquists

Why this book?

Based on a true story, this book was a treasure of a find, detailing the rebellion of artists in Nazi-occupied Belgium in 1943. Helene, a girl disguised as a male newspaper hawker, is only a side character – a cog in the machine of the farce newspaper being published by the rebels – but her incredible voice brings the movement to life, while expertly weaving in her own questions about gender and sexuality in a world she’s not sure has a place for her. The author later came out on the nonbinary spectrum as well, which really brought home for me how many of us explore our identities through our writing before coming to terms with significant truths about ourselves.


Leviathan

By Scott Westerfeld, Keith Thompson (illustrator),

Book cover of Leviathan

Why this book?

With a vibrant steampunk setting that pits airships against fantastical creatures, Leviathan follows the story of Deryn Sharp, who joins the air service disguised as a male soldier. The second character we follow is a young prince disguised as a commoner, trying to flee the country Deryn is fighting. This is my favorite type of story, told in the same way as in my book: with tight points of view from drastically different characters on opposing sides of a war, who both have big secrets that could destroy them if the other finds out. Action-packed and daring, it was everything I’d hoped for when I picked it up.


Whiskey When We're Dry

By John Larison,

Book cover of Whiskey When We're Dry

Why this book?

This is slightly outside the boundaries of a wartime novel, as it takes place in the Old West, but it’s a fantastic book for this list, and shouldn’t be overlooked if you love this trope. Jess Harney makes a name for herself as a notorious male sharpshooter and outlaw. Her first-person voice is one of the most interesting I’ve read, and I loved how she fit in as one of the guys while never sacrificing who she was. She barely even thinks about her gender as she so naturally considers herself male. Books like this really highlight the blurred lines between cross-dressing out of necessity or desire, and I’m excited to see more authors addressing this trope with the nuance of queerness which is often part of it.


She Who Became the Sun

By Shelley Parker-Chan,

Book cover of She Who Became the Sun

Why this book?

This Asian historical fantasy is no simple Mulan retelling, but a deep dive into fate and desire, and the thin line that separates them from each other. Zhu Chongba disguises herself as a male because she decides to steal her dead brother’s destiny of greatness. Though some elements of needing to disguise her gender come up, the story is centered on a strong-willed character’s determination to become exactly who she deserves and wishes to be – a male warrior who takes fate into her own hands to make the world hers. For her, the male appearance is not a disguise, but a destiny. It’s an incredibly powerful story that I couldn’t put down. Parker-Chan is also on the nonbinary spectrum, and writes this queer character with expertise and passion.


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