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Thursday, February 8, 2024

Review: The Warm Hands of Ghosts by Katherine Arden

 



OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Katherine Arden is the New York Times bestselling author of the Winternight trilogy and the Small Spaces Quartet. In addition to writing, she enjoys aimless travel, growing vegetables, and running wild through the woods with her dog, Moose. She lives in Vermont.

FORMAT/INFO: The Warm Hands of Ghosts will be published by Del Rey on February 13th, 2024. It is 336 pages and told in third person from Laura and Freddie's point of view. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Laura Iven never thought she'd return to the front lines of the Great War. A combat nurse wounded during a shelling attack, she was honorably discharged and sent home to Halifax. But when word arrives that her brother Freddie is missing, presumed dead, Laura gets the feeling that no one is telling her the whole story. She finds a way to join a medical team returning to Flanders and sets about investigating the events surrounding her brother's last days. It isn't long before she realizes that he may not be dead at all. His disappearance may be tied to rumors of a mysterious hotel that allows soldiers to forget the horrors of war - if they're willing to pay the price.

The Warm Hands of Ghosts is a gripping tale where the horrors of the supernatural pale in comparison to the horrors of war. Arden wrote in her afterword that she was trying to get across the surreal feeling unique to WWI, where the "old world" was fast crashing into the new one as advances in technology were starting to accelerate. Arden captures the odd juxtaposition of a war where bayonets and gasmasks existed side by side and posits the question of what a dark spirit of the old world would make of itself in this changing landscape.

As a result, there are less fantasy elements to be found here than in Arden's previous Winter Knight trilogy. Instead, her evocative language is lent to painting the heightened nightmare of No Man's Land and other aspects of the war. There are still ghosts, dark bargains, and buildings that come and go at a whim, but those elements overall felt more in the background. They're there to support the central question: are all the horrible things in your life that you've witnessed and committed worth remembering?

The story of The Warm Hands of Ghosts is tackled from two converging points in the story. The first is from early 1918, when retired combat nurse Laura receives word that her brother Freddie is missing, presumed dead, and she sets out on a quest to find out what really happened. The other timeline is from Freddie's point of view a few months earlier, as we see the events that led to his disappearance. The result is incredible tension as you begin to connect the dots of what happened and as characters begin to appear in both timelines. The finale is a real pressure cooker as the fates of multiple characters hang in the balance, and you find yourself willing certain people to find each other. I raced through the last third of the book, urged on by a sense of foreboding, thoroughly sucked into seeing how it would all play out.

CONCLUSION: The Warm Hands of Ghosts is a book of subtle magic in the face of apocalyptic devastation. This is not a flashy fantasy story, but it certainly draws you in with the mystery of Freddie's disappearance and Laura's dogged determination to find the truth. All in all, The Warm Hands of Ghosts is a captivating historical fantasy that reminds you of the importance of remembering even when you would far rather forget.

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