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Review by Kelly Jarvis: The Warm Hands of Ghosts by Katherine Arden


In The Warm Hands of Ghosts, Katherine Arden has gifted readers a stunning story about life and love set against the backdrop of World War I. The narrative relays the daily struggles of Laura Iven, a field nurse who has returned home to Halifax, Canada after being wounded by shrapnel, and her little brother Freddie, a young man with an artistic temperament who is serving in the trenches. Although Laura receives word of her brother’s death in a battlefield explosion, she is also confronted with otherworldly messages that let her know he is still alive, and she crosses the Atlantic to find the answers she needs. The chapters alternate between Laura’s search and her brother’s experiences as he is trapped beneath a pillbox with an injured German soldier who becomes his only connection to the world of the living.


Although set in a harsh, real-world environment, Arden’s text is rich with supernatural elements. The trenches and the forbidden zone between the warring armies is haunted by the ghosts of fallen soldiers, and rumors of bands of defectors who live among the rubble abound. Perhaps most interesting is the legend of a fiddler who hosts soldiers in his strange hotel, offering them wine which brings them the peace of oblivion in exchange for their stories. The Iven siblings must confront the costs of living in a world of death, destruction, and pain if they hope to escape from the fiddler with the memory of their own identities.


In addition to being a haunting and beautifully written novel, The Warm Hands of Ghosts is a well-researched depiction of the horrors of World War I. In her author’s note, Arden says “World War I deserves our attention. The hectic, violent years from 1915-1918 set the stage for the rest of the tumultuous twentieth century and laid the groundwork for the modern world.” Arden skillfully captures the reality of trench warfare and its aftermath, likening it to the apocalyptic imagination of the Laura and Freddie’s parents who prepared their children for the end of days. The prose is peppered with poetry from Milton, Dante, and Tennyson, and the close juxtaposition of beauty and horror, death and life, will leave readers spellbound. Throughout it all is an enduring sense of hope and an appreciation for the love that makes human life worth living. I loved every word of this book and highly recommend it!


You can find it here.


Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.



Kelly Jarvis works as the Assistant Editor for The Fairy Tale Magazine. Her poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in Blue Heron Review, Mermaids Monthly, Eternal Haunted Summer, Forget Me Not Press, A Moon of One’s Own, The Magic of Us, and Corvid Queen. Her short fiction has appeared in The Chamber Magazine and the World Weaver Press Anthology Mothers of Enchantment: New Tales of Fairy Godmothers. She can be found at https://kellyjarviswriter.com/ 

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