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Jul 29 2017 10:00am

First Look: Adriana Anders’ In His Hands (August 1, 2017)

In His Hands by Adriana Anders

Adriana Anders
In His Hands (Blank Canvas #3)
Sourcebooks / August 1, 2017 / $7.99 print & digital 

In His Hands, the third in Adriana Anders’s Blank Canvas series, takes elements of her first two books, mixes in wine and a terrifying religious cult, and gives us something undefinable. It’s like a psychological coming-of-age dark romantic suspense. It’s hard to categorize, so this First Look is going to focus on a couple of elements that sets it apart from other books I’ve read.

First things first—all of the trigger warnings: sexual abuse, coercion, physical abuse and assault, children in peril, twisted religious cult.

This isn’t the sort of book I usually pick up, but I really loved Anders’s first two, so I decided to set aside my reservations and give it a shot. It’s the story of Abby, a young woman who is looking for a way to free herself and her friend Sammy, who has Down Syndrome, from a religious cult. The only contact she has with the outside world is occasional glimpses of Luc, a French immigrant who owns a vineyard next door. With the recent death of her church-selected husband (three times her age) and the worsening of Sammy’s seizures, she finds the courage to sneak through the massive fence and over to Luc’s house to ask him for a job. He’s a misanthrope with a squishy center, so things progress as you might expect there.

The entire time they were working together, I had this itchy feeling at the back of my neck. When would they get caught? What was going to happen? Bad things, as you might have predicted. Anders kept me guessing until about 40 pages from the end of the book. With every obstacle to Abby’s freedom (and to Sammy’s freedom), I was more worried that there was no possible good outcome. (Don’t worry, you’ll get an HEA.) Anyway, on to what defines this book.

Physical Pain as a Surrogate for Emotional Pain

Every book in this series so far has been defined in part by some sort of physical trauma. In the first two, characters were tattooed against their will and came to town for tattoo removal. In this one? It’s BRANDING. Have you ever been burned? It’s awful. It’s so so so much more painful than a tattoo. The pain lingers, the scars are permanent, it’s just awful. Abby has been through a lot. Luc lost a finger a few years ago, so he has his own permanent reminder of why he left France, but it’s nothing compared to what Abby’s survived.

Luc talks a lot about Abby’s strength in the book. He’s amazed that she manages to be so kind and honest, after all that she’s endured. While I do think that Abby is a strong character, I also think there’s a strong parallel to some behaviors exhibited by people who cut, pluck, or otherwise inflict physical pain on themselves to achieve distance or relief from their emotional pain. Abby has a constant physical reminder of her suffering, and the way she’s been conditioned to accept it feels like a way for both the cult leaders and for herself to manage her emotional and intellectual needs.

As with the others in this series, Abby’s character arc has to do with reclaiming her body:

“She answered in kind, her body making the decisions. This wasn’t really her.

But my body is me, she recognized. She took the idea and owned it, letting it light her up from the tips of her fingers to the depths of her soul.”

Female Agency that Isn’t Uncoupled from Religion

Abby’s strength doesn’t come from a full-scale throwing off of everything she’s ever known. Her story is unique within the cult because she and her mother didn’t join until she was seven. At that time, she and her mother were starving, living in the back of a car. The religious center was a place of food, community, and stability. It’s understandable why she continues to exhibit loyalty and gratitude.

But, having been accused of “defiling” a young man, forced to give her body to an old man, and then watching him slowly die… Abby has reasonable doubts. Why can’t they use medicine to help Sammy with his seizures? Why is it forbidden for her to speak to outsiders at the market?

Abby’s self-determination is not that of a woman who is denying everything she’s believed, but rather a woman who can see the truth of a thing, the good and the bad, and is choosing what parts to keep.

I won’t lie, this book was hard to read. Cults are real, abuse is real, the incredibly limited options for women who have to start over are real. I did, however, stay up until 2am reading. This book isn’t unlike Abby’s brands, the burn is hot and painful, and stays with you for days afterward. 

***

Learn more about or pre-order a copy of In His Hands by Adriana Anders, available August 1, 2017:

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H&H Editor Picks:

Adriana Anders’ Blank Canvas Series: “Dark, Smart, and Full of Heart”

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When not reading All of the Things, Suzanne is raising two small valkyries and trying to open a bookstore. Book, comic, and assorted other tweets at @cerestheories.

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