A few months ago, I came across The Binding by Bridget Collins online, and I was immediately enraptured. It wasn’t out yet, but I counted down the days until I could buy it and read it. I’m in something of a historical fantasy mood lately, and The Binding was exactly what I needed in my collection. Evidently set in the mid- or late-1800s, it transports the reader to a time when books were very different from how they are today.
The Binding starts from the perspective of Emmett Farmer, and young man in a farming family who’s currently recovering from a mysterious illness. He’s no longer strong enough to perform his chores at home, and he’s been requested by a nearby book binder to become her apprentice. Books and book binding are controversial, though, because in this alternate history, books are actually made from people’s real memories. They completely forget an aspect of their own past once it’s made into a book. It’s serious business, and not something most people want to do.
Emmett himself knows virtually nothing about books, but he develops a close bond with his elderly book binding boss, Seredith. He’s still experiencing immobilizing fevers, but he’s also learning a lot about his new craft. However, one day everything changes, and he’s moved into the city to continue his work with those on the shadier side of his industry. And though he’s never performed a book binding before, his first time doing one will lead to some unexpected revelations. While Emmett is at the house to perform the binding, he discovers that he has his own book: Emmett Farmer, a book with his own secrets, unknown even to him. He needs to know his own past, and once he finds out, it’s quite the revelation.
Part two of the book takes us into Emmett’s past: the shameful events that led to his binding and why he got sick in the first place. But how shameful were his actions? Why was he forced to wipe his own memory?
The third and final part of the book suddenly shifts perspectives, moving into the eyes of another character who is also in the dark about his own book. Lucian Darnay doesn’t realize it, but he also has a secret past. His own father, however, is an evil man, and Lucian is afraid of what he himself is capable of. Is he as bad as his father? Lucian would rather live in the dark than come to terms with his own forgotten deeds.
It’s difficult to describe The Binding without giving away too much. Some of my favorite themes and scenes within the book are major spoilers, but I’ll share what I can:
The Binding introduces us to a world where shameful pasts and evil secrets can be buried, forgotten forever, at least by those who are bound. Transferring your memory of an event or period of your life can be helpful for some, but it can also be used to wield power and exercise abuse against unknowing victims. It’s no wonder that many characters here either distrust or outright hate books and book binders.
The novel also dives into our perceptions of others. First impressions aren’t always accurate, and learning to trust – or fear – people can prove difficult when you don’t understand why they behave as they do. Some characters grow more likable with time, while others effortlessly hide a darker side.
Finally, love and acceptance are central themes here, and they’re particularly relevant in light of society today. I’d say more about this, but you’ll have to read the book first!
The Binding is a magnificent, spellbinding novel that I never wanted to end. The writing is gorgeous, the characters enthralling, and the plot as exciting as it is humorous and sweet. It’s currently advertised as a standalone novel, but I can’t help but hope it’ll get a sequel. Please, do yourself a favor and read this book. I’ll be recommending it to everyone, and after reading it, you will be, too!