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  • Writer's pictureJulie Mackin

The Line Between Heaven and Hell

The Warm Hands of Ghosts by Katherine Arden

Stars: 5

Perfect if you like:

Historical Fiction

Strong female characters

Dual Narration and multiple timelines

Descriptive imagery 

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.

Every year, at the end of November, Nova Scotia sends down an evergreen tree to Boston where it is raised and lit as the city’s official Christmas tree. It is a thank you for the assistance provided to Halifax in 1917 after two ships in the harbor collided and one, a French cargo ship carrying explosives, caught fire, causing a massive explosion that leveled parts of Halifax. 

The impacts of this tragic accident are still being felt by Laura Iven when Katherine Arden’s book opens. Laura, a Red Cross nurse who has recently returned home to Halifax after being injured at the Front, learns that her brother has most likely died in Belgium. But when the news comes from the trenches that her brother, Freddie, has been killed, Laura can’t believe it. Something in her knows that he is still alive and she determines that she must find him, even if it means returning to the front lines as a nurse. 

Arden’s story bounces between Freddie in 1917 and Laura in 1918, as the siblings move closer to each other not only in time but in place. But will they be able to survive not just a war but the devil and find each other? Arden’s novel explores the limits of human suffering but also the resilience of the human heart in the face of unimaginable horror. It examines the depth to which people will go to help each other, even at great sacrifice to themselves. Finally, it forces the reader to rethink what they might believe about good and evil, courage and cowardice. 

I think when this book comes out next month, it is going to be a bestseller. The celebrity book clubs will be picking it and people will have it on their best of lists for 2024. And it should, this book manages to do many things well: keep the reader on the edge of their seat with a mystery while also forcing them to think about the nature of war, death, and the thin veil that separates the seen from the unseen. Arden states in her author’s note that the First World War deserves our attention and I hope that this  story draws people in and encourages them to learn more about the events that impacted the rest of the twentieth century. 

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