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Reviews of The Warm Hands of Ghosts by Katherine Arden

The Warm Hands of Ghosts

A Novel

by Katherine Arden

The Warm Hands of Ghosts by Katherine Arden X
The Warm Hands of Ghosts by Katherine Arden
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Feb 2024, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Isabella Zhou
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About this Book

Book Summary

During the Great War, a combat nurse searches for her brother, believed dead in the trenches despite eerie signs that suggest otherwise, in this hauntingly beautiful historical novel with a speculative twist, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Bear and the Nightingale.

January 1918. Laura Iven was a revered field nurse until she was wounded and discharged from the medical corps, leaving behind a brother still fighting in Flanders. Now home in Halifax, Canada, Laura receives word of Freddie's death in combat, along with his personal effects—but something doesn't make sense. Determined to uncover the truth, Laura returns to Belgium as a volunteer at a private hospital, where she soon hears whispers about haunted trenches and a strange hotelier whose wine gives soldiers the gift of oblivion. Could Freddie have escaped the battlefield, only to fall prey to something—or someone—else?

November 1917. Freddie Iven awakens after an explosion to find himself trapped in an overturned pillbox with a wounded enemy soldier, a German by the name of Hans Winter. Against all odds, the two form an alliance and succeed in clawing their way out. Unable to bear the thought of returning to the killing fields, especially on opposite sides, they take refuge with a mysterious man who seems to have the power to make the hellscape of the trenches disappear.

As shells rain down on Flanders and ghosts move among those yet living, Laura's and Freddie's deepest traumas are reawakened. Now they must decide whether their world is worth salvaging—or better left behind entirely.

The Beast from the Sea

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canadian Maritimes

January 1918

Freddie's clothes came to Veith Street instead of Blackthorn House, and the telegram that ought to have preceded them didn't reach Laura at all. She wasn't surprised. Nothing had worked properly, not since December.

December 6, to be exact. In the morning. When the Mont Blanc had steamed into Halifax Harbor, oil on deck and high explosive in her hold. She'd struck a freighter, they said, and the oil caught fire. Harbor crews were trying to put it out when the flames found the nitroglycerine.

At least that was how rumor had it. "No, I don't doubt it's true," Laura told her patients when they asked, as though she would know. As if, after three years as a combat nurse, she'd learned about high explosive from the things it wrote on people's skin. "Didn't you see the fireball?"

They all had. Her father had been in one of the boats trying to drown the blaze. Halifax afterward looked as if God had raised a giant ...

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Reviews

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The Iven siblings, Canadians serving in World War I, have their lives upended in the bloody final years of the global conflict. After a bomb lands on the hospital where she is stationed and nearly takes her leg, older sister Laura is honorably discharged from her duties as a frontline nurse. Mere days later, the orphaned Laura receives news that her beloved younger brother, Freddie, has likely died in the European trenches. Lingering doubts lead Laura to venture back to the front to uncover the truth behind Freddie's mysterious disappearance. Arden creates a historical setting that fuses the scientific and brutally realistic with the supernatural and occult. The Warm Hands of Ghosts delves into darkly fantastic ways of coping with warfare's psychological trauma. Laura, herself staunchly scientific and disbelieving in mysticism, is haunted by her deceased mother and doubts her own sanity. In its first half, the pacing of The Warm Hands of Ghosts is slow as Arden builds up her characters. The careful worldbuilding and character-building has a satisfying payoff once Laura's and Freddie's narrative lines converge in the Forbidden Zone...continued

Full Review Members Only (955 words)

(Reviewed by Isabella Zhou).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Set on and off the battlefields of Belgium in the final year of World War I, this novel adds a supernatural touch to its vividly realized historical details.

Library Journal (starred review)
Arden's World War I setting is visceral, with real-world horrors that make warm-handed ghosts and seductive devils comforting in comparison. The touch of fantasy enhances the uncanny, shifting realities of a world in turmoil.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Through resonant prose, [Arden] literalizes the apocalyptic qualities of WWI while dwelling in moral complexity and delivering vibrant, fully fleshed-out characters. The interwoven supernatural elements lend the historical details greater weight. The result is a powerful page-turner.

Author Blurb Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander
A wonderful clash of fire and ice—a book you won't want to let go of.

Author Blurb Kate Quinn, author of The Diamond Eye
Katherine Arden's effortless blend of history and folklore is sure to entrance again with this stunning foray into the twentieth century, where ghosts walk, dreams blunt trauma, and myth becomes real.

Author Blurb Naomi Novik, author of A Deadly Education
A spectacular tour de force by one of my favorite authors, so wonderful and deep and haunting that you might well imagine it required a Faustian bargain of its own—I love this book so much and want everyone to read it!

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Beyond the Book

Canadian Nurses in World War I

Black-and-white photo of Canadian nurses having tea in front of a tent at a Casualty Clearing Station in France, 1916 Katherine Arden's The Warm Hands of Ghosts, in addition to focusing on the violence and trauma of the World War I trenches, is also about the female nurses who treated wounded soldiers.

Protagonist Laura's point-of-view sections devote ample description to the sordid day-to-day of serving as a hospital nurse in WWI. Already sent away from the front once for a bomb that nearly took her leg, she is steely and cynical and, like the other nurses, adopts several coping mechanisms: alcohol, smoking, ducking for cover at the first sign of a bombing, and sleeping without dreaming.

During WWI, as many as 3,000 Canadian nurses in the Canadian Army Medical Corps served with 600,000 men in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. These women —...

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