In His Hands
In this standalone novel from Adriana Anders, Abby craves the freedom she believes is just beyond the fence. Raised on a compound belonging to the Church of the Apocalyptic Faith, Abby has known no life outside the cult, but she is absolutely drawn to the strange man growing grapes right next door and has convinced herself he is the key to her future. Luc Stanek wants nothing more than to be left alone and certainly has no desire to tangle with his weird neighbors. But this girl keeps showing up demanding to help him with his grape harvest, and slowly becomes an intrinsic part of his world. In His Hands is the story of two people determined to craft their own futures, who soon find they cannot do that without each other.
This book is something else, reader. I picked it up because I’m fascinated with cults and those who escape from them. The moxie it takes to reject everything you’ve known, all the mind control elements, and say ‘no more’ and pursue freedom is astounding to me and I’m very drawn to narratives about that process. I was curious how it was going to work in a romance context, though, because could I trust a recent cult survivor to have enough mental agency to really make a conscious choice? Could I trust that the consent was real?
The way that Ms. Anders chooses to tell the story completely put my mind at ease regarding all those questions. Abby, we are told quickly and frequently, has been questioning the teachings of the ‘church’ for years before we meet her. Their treatment of marriage abhors her, the patriarchal system of leadership scares her, and she knows she must get out. However, it’s not just about her. There’s a boy that she feels she needs to save. She knows he needs medical attention and won’t get it in the cult – as they don’t believe in medicine – and is determined to get herself and the boy out into the modern world.
The cult knows she’s a threat. She used to be on farmer’s market duty, but Abby was removed from that when she got “too friendly” with the townspeople. She has now been assigned to perimeter control duty – which means walking the fence that separates the compound from the outside world. This shift in duties has only spurred Abby on towards more significant action. She knows she must leave. There is no longer an option.
Luc comes from a prestigious wine dynasty in France, but has eschewed it all to move to this small town, somewhere in the mountains, somewhere in America (I was never 100% clear on the state, if it was mentioned, it was so briefly that I missed it), where the soil is good for grape growing. He’s not interested in making wine, just in growing grapes, and most interested in being left alone.
Everything changes one day when Abby crawls through the fence once morning and demands to be hired to help with his harvest. He fobs her off at first, but she’s persistent. He can tell she’s running from something, but doesn’t want to think about what or why. He can use the help anyway, so he eventually gives in and allows her to come back day after day to complete the grape harvest. By the time the harvest is over, the two are absolutely in a committed relationship but they have no idea that they are.
What happens from there deserves to be left unspoiled, but angst and drama are the orders of the day. There is abuse in this story – because it’s an apocalyptic cult and that’s kind of what they do – but there’s also redemption and agency and love. It’s messy and painful, but lands alive was I rooting for Abby’s healing and Luc’s realization that he can’t do life alone.
In His Hands had a few too many moving parts for me to give it a DIK, but it was a squeaker call between the grades. If this scratches any of your trope itches, I’d pick it up for sure.