Published: 10th January 2019
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Trigger warnings: Allusions to rape, sexual references, suicide, animal cruelty, homophobia
Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to begin an apprenticeship. He will work for a Bookbinder, a vocation that arouses fear, superstition and prejudice – but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.
He will learn to hand-craft beautiful volumes, and within each he will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, he can help. If there’s something you need to erase, he can assist. Your past will be stored safely in a book and you will never remember your secret, however terrible.
In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, row upon row of books – and memories – are meticulously stored and recorded.
Then one day Emmett makes an astonishing discovery: one of them has his name on it…
There are many wonders to be felt with this book that go far beyond its strikingly beautiful cover. Based around a fascinating, superbly realised concept and blessed with an absorbing degree of atmosphere throughout, it is a unique, multi-layered story that combines historical fiction and fantasy with the utmost subtlety.
Set within an unspecified historical time period, it primarily focuses on the blooming relationship between two characters, but in the beginning there is little sign of what is to come. The start of the book poses a lot of questions and to some may actually seem a little slow, but once everything falls into place, the true essence of the story soon becomes clear.
Right at the centre of this is the secretive and often tragic concept of Binding. This is a story in which books are regarded with fear and disdain, for each one contains a person’s memories. A person who goes to a binder has their bad memories or apparent sins cast into the pages of a book so they can carry on with their lives as if those things never happened. The only way they can remember is if their book gets destroyed.
It is an very clever idea that acts as a highly effective backdrop to the story. Binding is explored in considerable detail and I liked the way it takes on different forms, which some of the more evil characters exploit for their own personal gain with serious consequences.
The book is told entirely in the first person, and it starts off by introducing Emmett, a young man who is hired as an apprentice by Seredith, an aged binder. At first, he comes across as something of a closed book, but gradually you learn more about him and how he came to be that way. As a character, he becomes quite compelling.
About a third of the way in, there is a major shift in pace and tone, but this was the section of the book I enjoyed the most. It provided the perfect dose of literary escapism, as well as the context for the beginning and the end of the book. That said, I was not prepared for the sudden change of POV later on, but it actually worked well as it gave the story not only another dimension, but an extra sense of perspective.
Aside from Emmett, the other characters were intriguing even if not all of them were massively developed. They ranged from innocent to deplorable, standing on opposite sides of a tangible class divide that felt slightly Dickensian in nature.
Emmett’s sister Alta was at times likeable and her story was bittersweet, although the notion that she could fall in love with someone the second she looked at them for the first time left me feeling sceptical. Lucian on the other hand was exceptionally complex and well written. As for Seredith and de Havilland, I was interested by them both, so I wish they could have been more developed.
And that brings me on to the only thing that really disappointed me about The Binding. The central storyline was followed through to the end, but at the cost of other important questions being left hanging in the air. There were some things that I would have liked to have known the answer to, but will never find out. Ah well…
But other than that, the writing is first class. I especially loved the way the author decided to show and not tell, which makes the reader experience the story alongside the characters. And the atmosphere she created was just incredible. During every scene there is an underlying sense of mystery and tension that somehow made it more powerful.
The settings also add a lot to this. Every sight, every smell, even every texture, is lovingly described with the help of some well-chosen similes and metaphors. Seredith’s house also has a Gothic feel to it, which I really liked.
Overall, this was an impressive read. I was completely pulled in by the concept and the atmosphere, and it was exciting to discover the path that the story takes. Some things could have done with a little more explanation, but in general I really liked it, and would be interested in reading more from Bridget Collins.
During her career as an author, Bridget Collins has proven herself to be extremely versatile, publishing books in a range of genres. The Binding is her first foray into historical fiction.
Previously she has written under the name B.R. Collins, writing for a young adult audience to produce stories from psychological thrillers to fantasies that take place within futuristic settings.
An impressive read with an outstanding concept and a sprinkling of romance, I enjoyed The Binding massively. Despite the loose ends, there was so much to like.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐