Thanks to Netgalley and Ballentine for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
The Warm Hands of Ghosts
by Katherine Arden
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 Warm Hands of Ghosts is a mix of historical fiction, mystery, and supernatural elements. I loved this book.
The story starts in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in January 1918. A ship laden with explosives has blown up in the harbor, destroying much of Halifax, and killing Laura Iven’s parents. Laura is a registered nurse, sent home from the military hospitals of World War I after suffering a severe leg injury.
While nursing the injured from the explosion, injuries reminiscent of the wounded she left behind in Belgium, a crate arrives from Flanders with her brother Freddie’s belongings. But she’s not received a death notice from the army. Since her brother is the only member of her family left, Laura returns as a civilian nurse to the war and its hospitals to search for her brother.
Laura’s search will take her beyond the physical lines of the war. In a place with so much death, the demarcation between the physical world and the supernatural blurs. Faland inhabits this no-man’s-land. He comes and goes as he pleases, preying on the PTSD of soldiers at war. Once a man is in Faland’s grip, he never wants to leave. If Laura finds physically finds Freddie, will she still lose him to his memories?
The research Arden put into this novel is evident because I was immersed in post-explosion Halifax, the military hospitals, and the horrors of trench warfare. I was drawn to Laura-her commitment to her patients, her bravery at returning to the front, her determination to find Freddie and bring him home. Freddie is very much a soldier caught up in a war he doesn’t understand. Surrounded by death and destruction, he finds the only way to survive is trust a German soldier, the very person he was sent overseas to kill. Freddie’s battle is as much a mental war as a physical one, at a time when soldiers suffering from the mental strains of war were left on their own.
The Warm Hands of Ghosts is a well-written historical novel that also combines elements of mystery (is Freddie dead or alive?) and the supernatural (who or what is Faland?) Arden’s newest novel has earned a place on my bookshelf.
Pub Date: Feb 13