Read an Excerpt From The Warm Hands of Ghosts

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The Warm Hands of Ghosts by Katherine Arden, a historical novel with a speculative twist set during WWI—out from Del Rey on February 13.

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.

She wasn’t sure how much time had passed before she found Fa­land sitting beside her. She was startled. She hadn’t seen him cross the room. But he was there, rolling an empty glass between long fingers. “It’s Laura, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Laura. When had she told him her name?

“Do you like the wine?”

“Yes,” she said. She was so warm, the knife-edges of the world all blunted.

He refilled her glass deftly. “And you were wounded?”

He’d noticed, of course. How could he not? “I was.”

“Brave heart,” said Faland. “But surely you would stay home after that, in the arms of your family. Or are you so wild for adven­ture?”

“No,” she said. A hairline crack ran now through Laura’s enjoy­ment. There was something in his face, almost too subtle to notice. Malice? His sidelong stare seemed to see everything. The ghosts that Agatha Parkey swore she trailed: her mother, her father, her brother. The hope and long-denied despair that had dragged her back across the ocean. He seemed to see it all, to catalogue it, even to be laughing at it, in some secret place.

Didn’t he have patrons to serve? Pim was nowhere to be seen. Mary had put her head down and gone to sleep. Trying to turn the force of his gaze, Laura said, “Have you ever considered leaving Flanders? A man with your talent—” She fell silent, staring past Faland’s shoulder.

Standing in the middle of the room was the figure she’d seen in the road, the figure that had prompted her, half-instinctively, to cry out. It was the watcher from the gangplank in Halifax. The face from her dreams. Her mother with glass in her eyes, glass jutting from her body.

The glow of the wine vanished. Laura stumbled to her feet, back­ing away. She was wet, hungry, tired, ill.

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The Warm Hands of Ghosts
The Warm Hands of Ghosts

The Warm Hands of Ghosts

Katherine Arden

Faland shook his head, as though he’d understood something that vexed him. Then Laura blinked and the figure was gone. She stood panting, swaying on her feet. Lightly, Faland said, “You could stay here awhile. It would do you good, I think. You could stop being afraid.”

“I’m not afraid.”

He didn’t dignify that with a response. He’d seen her staring in horror at nothing. Laura set her jaw. Madness stalked the Western Front, but she would not, could never, succumb. She was the steady one when others lost their heads. She must concentrate on what she’d come for: to learn what had become of Freddie. “I can’t stay. I have things to do.”

“Do you?”

Did she? Why was she in Flanders, really? To torment herself with the—

Across the room, Pim screamed. She was staring into the mirror over the bar, her expression reflected in the glass raw with equal parts hunger and horror. Laura didn’t think even a great obscenity would put that look on her face. “Pim—”

Faland had turned as well, almost impatiently, but then his shoul­ders stiffened. Laura could see in profile his lips pursed in a sound­less whistle. But there was nothing to see but a woman, her golden hair coming down, looking into a mirror. “What does she see?” de­manded Laura, already making her stumbling way across the room.

He didn’t answer; she didn’t know if he followed. Mary didn’t stir, her head still pillowed on her folded arms. The mirror itself glimmered, black with tarnish in spots, spider-webbed with cracks in one corner. Laura squinted into the depths but could see nothing that would have prompted Pim to—

A face, reflected in the mirror, swam into focus as she walked closer. It wasn’t hers.

Then she thought her heart would stop, because it was Freddie.

Freddie with eyes hollow and blank. Freddie with white threaded through the russet of his hair. Freddie with his expression strangely dim, puzzled. A reflection that wavered, as though her brother were caught in the tarnished glass.

She knew it was just a figment. Some sort of hypnotic suggestion. Faland had said she’d see her heart’s desire, and he’d meant it liter­ally. It was his voice working on her brain, along with the dimness, and the wine, and her fever. She knew. And still she turned to look behind her. No power on earth could have kept her from looking.

And of course he wasn’t there. Just a sea of men, drowsy, with—No. There. For an instant she could have sworn she saw russet hair, straight shoulders, haunted eyes. His name came tearing from her throat. “Freddie!”

But he was already gone, vanished between tables, between men, between shadows. He’d never been there at all.

She tried to follow anyway. Came up instantly against people dazed and stupid with wine, came up against her own drunkenness and doubt, her cramping leg. Found herself pushing like a woman in a nightmare, not even sure what she was looking for. There were so many doors. The room was ringed with doors. Which door? Take the right door, she thought confusedly, and she ’d find herself in a different world, she ’d find herself back in Halifax, be­fore the end of everything. She clawed her way out of the sodden crowd.

Fetched up against a person who caught her by the shoulders. “Gently, Mademoiselle,” said Faland. “You are hallucinating, fever­ish, you are not yourself.”

“My brother—I saw my brother.”

He didn’t let go. “That damned mirror. I’m sorry I said anything about it. You are very ill, you know.”

She pulled away, fighting for her balance. “No, I saw him. In the room. Not just in the mirror. I saw him.

His face expressed nothing but puzzled concern. “Could your brother be here tonight? By coincidence? Forgive me, but why would you have to chase him? He’d come to you, surely.”

Of course he’d come to her. If he could. He wasn’t there. He was dead, and there was no such thing as ghosts. “No,” she whispered. The fight went out of her. “He couldn’t be here tonight.”

Faland’s face softened. “Then I am so sorry, Mademoiselle.” He offered her an arm. “I shall take you back to your companions. You should sleep. You should stay. You are in no condition to endanger—”

Endanger? His words reminded her of Pim, and she looked up. Pim was still standing in front of the tarnished mirror, utterly still, an expression of horrified longing on her face. “What’s wrong with my friend? What did she see?”

Faland’s green eye glittered with firelight, but the dark eye had no reflection. “It is often illuminating, to see your heart’s desire. But it is not always pleasant. You might have just discovered that your­self. Come, I will take you to her.”

Excerpted from The Warm Hands of Ghosts by Katherine Arden. Copyright © 2024 by Katherine Arden. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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