Skip to main content

“Was the girl her parents had formed still alive inside her, believing that the end of the world must come with miracles?
Or must she just spend her life kneeling at the altar of her ghosts?”

The Warm Hands of GhostsWell, Katherine Arden has done it again. Brimming with atmosphere, emotion, and mystifying intrigue, The Warm Hands of Ghosts is an incredibly poignant historical fiction novel with a breathtaking speculative twist that will keep you entranced from start to finish.

With how much I adore Arden’s Winternight trilogy, I was equally nervous and excited to read something completely new from her. Once again, we are offered a magical historical fiction novel, except this time the fantastical elements are even more elusive and up to interpretation than those in Winternight. However, don’t fool yourself into thinking that this story will be any less entrancing, because Arden simply has a way of weaving pure magic into her words.

The Warm Hands of Ghosts tells the harrowing story of the Iven siblings, both broken by the war yet refusing to believe they have lost each other. In 1918, the grief-stricken war nurse Laura receives a strange message during a séance that prompts her to travel back to Belgium, determined to find out what has happened to her brother. Jumping back a couple of months, we follow said brother, Freddie, desperately trying to escape the overturned pillbox that he has tragically become trapped in together with an enemy German soldier. Nothing will stop them in their fight for survival and hunt for answers, not even the enigmatic violinist with his devilishly tempting offers of comfort and solace.

Now, WW1 stories are not my preferred type of setting and time period, but leave it to Arden to get me fully invested. The way that she brought the apocalyptic chaos of the war to life through the intimate perspectives of the Iven siblings was horrifyingly captivating. The death, despair and decay is truly inescapable, described in such a painfully realistic way that it almost felt voyeuristic to witness all the pain and suffering they had to endure.

From the very first page, there is just a dangerously addictive air of intrigue and desperation woven into the narrative, which honestly kept me in a chokehold. Both Laura and Freddie were tragically compelling characters, and I loved seeing how they were both desperately trying to survive in their own ways while they hunted for answers.

Though while Laura is arguably the main main character of The Warm Hands of Ghosts, I actually ended up preferring Freddie’s perspective over hers. I think this was mainly because I wasn’t all that compelled by all the very bleak nursing sequences in her storyline, even though I deeply appreciated getting a glimpse into the horribly desperate situation of both the victims and the caretakers at the warfront hospital.

In contrast, Freddie’s storyline had both an intoxicating sense of urgency and a mystifying air of intrigue that kept me glued to the page, and I loved the almost feverdream-like haze that Arden created as he came in contact with the more ethereal aspects of this story. His dynamic with Winter also really tugged on my heartstrings, and I would honestly have loved to lean even further into their complicated journey of self-discovery and tentatively developing bond of trust and love.

There’s truly no denying that The Warm Hands of Ghosts is a very dark, bleak, and heavy story, but I wouldn’t say that it is depressing. There is so much hope, defiance, and love woven into the narrative, which gives it way more heart than you might initially expect. And while Arden’s prose is a lot less flowery than in Winternight, there is a beauty to the sparseness that perfectly fits with this narrative and which makes all the emotional beats hit all the harder.

Themes of grief and loss, of both loved ones and of your own self, are powerfully explored in The Warm Hands of Ghosts. Not only through the eyes of these two protagonists, but also through all the wonderful people they bond with along the way. Moreover, the heavy toll that trauma takes on the body and mind really becomes the heart of this story, and I was eerily captivated by the exploration of what different people were willing to give up to pacify themselves and to recover a semblance of inner peace.

Now, I’ll admit that it took me a bit to really appreciate the magical realism elements introduced through the antagonist, but by the end I was very impressed by what Arden accomplished. As someone who is not Christian, I am certain that a lot of the deeper layers of this story were completely lost on me. However, it is a testament to Arden’s writing that The Warm Hands of Ghosts still works on an emotional level, even without grasping all the biblical allusions and references.

And speaking of emotional, I really commend Arden for not wrapping this story up in a neat pretty bow, as that would have felt incredibly disingenuous. The war might be over and these characters might be in a much safer space now, but they are still extremely scarred on so many levels and will be working on their tumultuous healing journey for a long, long time to come.

Overall, I think Arden executed her vision for this story to perfection, and I can now truly safely say that she is an auto-buy author for me. If you are looking for a tragically beautiful and darkly entrancing WW1 story that will haunt you for days to come, then you have to check out The Warm Hands of Ghosts.

The Warm Hands of Ghosts

The Warm Hands of Ghosts

The Warm Hands of Ghosts

The Warm Hands of Ghosts

The Warm Hands of Ghosts

The Warm Hands of Ghosts

The Warm Hands of Ghosts

The Warm Hands of Ghosts

Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay is a self-proclaimed professional book devourer from The Netherlands. While (dark) fantasy will always have her heart, she is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and will probably read anything if the premise sounds intriguing enough. Or, you know, if it promises complete emotional destruction. When not reading books, she is probably reviewing books, talking about books, or watching videos of fellow bookworms talking about books.

Leave a Reply