The Binding, Bridget Collins

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Which was worse? To feel nothing, or to grieve for something you no longer remembered?

Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a strange letter arrives summoning him away from his family. He is to begin an apprenticeship as a Bookbinder. Bookbinding is a sacred calling, Seredith informs her new apprentice, and he is a binder born.

 If there’s something you want to forget, a binder can help. If there’s something you need to erase, they can assist. Within the pages of the books they create, secrets are concealed and the past is locked away. Just as Emmett begins to settle into his new circumstances, he makes an astonishing discovery: one of the books has his name on it.

* * * *
4 / 5

Sometimes a novel really, truly sucks you in. Enthrals you. The Binding is one such novel; it drew me in and left me spellbound, swept away in this unique world that Collins has wrought.

My father, of course, is a connoisseur. He claims that he would know instantly if he saw a novel. He says that a real, authentic book breathes an unmistakable scent of …well. He calls it truth, or life. I think maybe he means despair

I picked up The Binding believing it to be a fantasy novel. And I suppose it is a fantasy novel. But I would better describe it as a historical romance set against a fantasy background, and the smooth transition from pure fantasy novel to what is essentially a gay romance caught me off guard. I ended up loving it, but it definitely surprised me. Anyhow, onto the details: Emmett Farmer is, you guessed it, a farmer. He’s been ill the past year and is now a shadow of the tanned, strong young man he used to be, delicate, frail and pale. He’s just started working back on the family farm when a letter arrives, summoning Emmett to work as an apprentice Bookbinder. His family is horrified.

Novels do not exist in this world. The people can read and write letters and notes, but every book is true. Every book is a memory. Those who want to forget, who are driven mad by memory, who are in too much pain, go to Binders to have their memories bound into a book. They forget everything, even the fact that they have been bound. This premise was, to me, delightfully magical, morally fraught, and astonishingly original in idea and execution.

Emmett goes to work for Seredith as an apprentice Binder. Life is different, confusing and slow-paced, but Emmett is beginning to be settled when he makes an astonishing discovery: his book is in Seredith’s vault. And the memories in it involve a boy, a romance, and a summer he was forced to forget. Lucian Darnay is the son of an aristocrat – posh, polished, and thinks his father is a monster (he is). Lucien and Emmett are worlds apart and yet the two are drawn together in defiance of societies norms and their parents’ wishes, with Emmett’s sister Alta getting caught in the crossfire.

Here the clock in the hall dredged up seconds like stones and dropped them again into the pool of the day, letting each ripple widen before the next one fell

The book is written in three parts. The first is Emmett’s journey up until discovering his book, the second is an account of the memories he had forgotten, and the final part is the aftermath. To me, The Binding was Emmett’s story. His romance, his voyage forwards and backwards in time, from blankness to discovery. So one aspect I wasn’t a fan of was the decision to have the last part from Lucien’s point of view. I wanted to hear the story from Emmett and the last part, for me, definitely felt unbalanced because of the change.

Another minor quibble was how insecure both of Lucien and Emmett were. Each was constantly thinking that the other was toying with them, and it became very frustrating. A classic case of miscommunication being used to create tension that wasn’t really necessary.

Aside from this, I adored The Binding. I loved the magical and historical atmosphere that permeated the story, the idea of binding and how easily it could be warped and used for some truly heinous acts, and the slow, burning, and suddenly desperate romance that tied the book together.

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