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The Warm Hands of Ghosts
Cover of The Warm Hands of Ghosts
The Warm Hands of Ghosts
A Novel
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.
“A wonderful clash of fire and ice—a book you won’t want to let go of.”—Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander

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.
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.
“A wonderful clash of fire and ice—a book you won’t want to let go of.”—Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander

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.
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  • From the cover 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 burning boot and stamped. Fresh graves in Fairview sat snug beside five-year-old headstones from the Titanic, and the village of the Mi’kmaq had vanished.

    And the post was a disaster. That was why she’d not heard from Freddie. He was her brother, he was a soldier; of course a backlog of his letters was lost in a sack somewhere. She had no time to think of it. She had too much to do. The first makeshift hospital had been scraped together in a YMCA the day after the explosion. The snow was bucketing down and Halifax was still on fire. Laura had walked past the uncollected dead. Shut their eyes when she could reach them, laid a hand once on a small bare foot. Three years of active service, and she was familiar with the dead.

    Familiar too with the sight of an overrun triage station, although it was her first time to be met not with soldiers, but with parents clutching their burnt children. Laura had taken off her coat, washed her hands, reassured the nearest wild-eyed mother. Had a word with the overwhelmed civilian doctor and set about organizing the chaos.

    That was a month ago—or was it six weeks? Time had stretched, as it did when wounded poured in during a battle, reduced not to minutes or hours, but to the pulse and the breath of whoever was under her hands. She slept standing up, and told herself that she was too busy to wonder why Freddie didn’t write.

    “That damned virago,” muttered one doctor, half-annoyed, half-admiring. The Barrington hospital was full of willing hands. The Americans, blessedly, had piled a train full of all the gauze, disinfectants, and surgeons in Boston and sent it north. It was January by then, with snowdrifts head-high outside. The gymnasium had been turned into a hospital ward, sensibly laid out, ruthlessly organized, competently staffed. Laura was doing rounds, bent over a bed.

    “That harpy,” agreed his fellow. “But she’s forgotten more about dressings than you’ll ever know. She was in the Nursing Corps, you know. Caught a shell over in France somewhere.”

    It was Belgium, actually.

    “Caught a shell? A nurse, really? What did she do? Dress as a man and creep up the line?”

    The first doctor didn’t take the bait. “No—I heard they shelled the forward hospitals.”

    A startled pause. Then— “Barbaric,” said the second doctor weakly. Laura kept on taking temperatures. Both doctors stopped talking, perhaps contemplating trying to practice medicine under...
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  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 11, 2023
    Arden (The Bear and the Nightingale) blends a meticulously researched WWI epic, an eloquent family saga, and a touch of the supernatural in this breathtaking historical fantasy. Nurse Laura Iven returns home to Halifax, Nova Scotia, after being wounded on the Western Front and honorably discharged from the medical corps. When she learns in early 1918 that her soldier brother Freddie—her last living family member—is missing and presumed dead, she’s overwhelmed with questions, so she volunteers to return to Belgium, where she’ll work at a private hospital and seek answers in her limited spare time. The narrative shifts between Laura’s perspective and Freddie’s own, a year prior, as he falls in with a mysterious and potentially mystical new friend, adding captivating depth and tension to an already intriguing premise. Arden’s carefully constructed plot makes each unexpected twist feel as inevitable as it is shocking. Through resonant prose, she 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. Agent: Paul Lucas, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc.

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The Warm Hands of Ghosts
A Novel
Katherine Arden
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