The Warm Hands of Ghosts

Katherine Arden

The Warm Hands of Ghosts
United Kingdom
5 March 2024

The Warm Hands of Ghosts

Katherine Arden

World War One, and as shells fall in Flanders, a Canadian nurse searches for her brother believed dead in the trenches despite eerie signs that suggest otherwise in this gripping and powerful historical novel from the bestselling author of The Bear and the Nightingale.

January 1918. Laura Iven has been discharged from her duties as a nurse and sent back to Halifax, Canada, leaving behind a brother still fighting in the trenches of the First World War. Now home, she receives word of Freddie's death in action along with his uniform -but something doesn't quite make sense. Determined to find out more, Laura returns to Belgium as a volunteer at a private hospital. Soon after arriving, she hears whispers about ghosts moving among those still living and a strange inn-keeper whose wine gives soldiers the gift of oblivion. Could this have happened to Freddie - but if so, where is he?

November 1917. Freddie Iven awakens after an explosion to find himself trapped under an overturned pillbox with an enemy soldier, a German, each of them badly wounded. Against all odds, the two men form a bond and succeed in clawing their way out. But once in No Man's Land, where can either of them turn where they won't be shot as enemy soldiers or deserters? As the killing continues, they meet a man - a fiddler - who seems to have the power to make the hellscape that surrounds them disappear. But at what price?

A novel of breath-taking scope and drama, of compulsive readability, of stunning historical research lightly worn, and of brilliantly drawn characters who will make you laugh and break your heart in a single line, The Warm Hands of Ghosts is a book that will speak to readers directly about the trauma of war and the power of those involved to love, endure and transcend it.


The Warm Hands of Ghosts is an unforgettable story centring on themes of war, love and loss. Throughout the novel, Katherine Arden brings about alternating timelines between two separated siblings, a wounded nurse and a traumatised soldier.

Set in January 1918, Laura Iven, a nurse wounded during the First World War and recently discharged, returns home to Halifax, Canada. She receives word of her brother, Freddie, who has been deemed ‘missing in action, presumed dead’. Concerned about what has happened to him, Laura’s determination brings about her return to France, set on a mission to find out what has happened to her brother.

The narrative also takes us back in November 1917, with Canadian soldier Freddie Iven, who finds himself trapped in a pillbox with an enemy soldier, a German named Hans Winter. An unlikely alliance forms between the two and they learn to put aside their differences to work at surviving together. Meanwhile, something else is lurking: a strange violinist who offers an escape for haunted soldiers. This promised escape, however, comes at a cost – the risk of losing oneself, of being consumed with loss and madness.

As the story unfolds, a hauntingly beautiful take on the consequences of war is revealed. Intertwined with paranormal aspects, Arden creates a powerful story you won’t soon forget, one filled with hope and love. You begin to grasp a devastating – yet also changing – world through the characters’ eyes. Arden’s prose is stunning, which highlights the novel’s exploration of war and trauma, clearly showcasing her thorough research on the historical settings.

This is a beautifully crafted historical fiction novel. If you love complex characters, a blend of magic and history, and don’t mind darker elements in a story, then I highly recommend you give this one a try.

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