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—a vocation that arouses fear, superstition, and prejudice among their small community but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.
For as long as he can recall, Emmett has been drawn to books, even though they are strictly forbidden. Bookbinding is a sacred calling, Seredith informs her new apprentice, and he is a binder born. Under the old woman’s watchful eye, Emmett learns to hand-craft the elegant leather-bound volumes. Within each one they will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. 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. In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, rows upon rows of books are meticulously stored.
But while Seredith is an artisan, there are others of their kind, avaricious and amoral tradesman who use their talents for dark ends—and just as Emmett begins to settle into his new circumstances, he makes an astonishing discovery: one of the books has his name on it. Soon, everything he thought he understood about his life will be dramatically rewritten.
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 3.98 out of 5
10th January 2019 by The Borough Press (a very overdue ARC review!)
When the letter came I was out in the fields, binding up my last sheaf of wheat with hands that were shaking so much I could hardly tie the knot. It was my fault we’d had to do it the old-fashioned way, and I’d be damned if I was going to give up now; I had battled through the heat of the afternoon, blinking away the patches of darkness that flickered at the sides of my vision, and now it was nightfall and I was almost finished.
I received a copy of this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is my 200th blog post and I’m very pleased that this milestone belongs to a review of The Binding.
I loved The Binding.
This book has been given one of my rare 5 star ratings and is the first 5 star rating of the year. The problem I have is explaining in words why I loved The Binding because ultimately the reason why I gave this 5 stars is because of how it made me feel.
There’s no more logic and rationale behind it then that.
What I say in this review doesn’t at all capture the reasons why I loved it but to be honest I still don’t think it would come to anything more than just ‘the feels’.
I am aware that this book has captured very opposing reviews and weirdly for a book that I adored I can kind of see why.
The Binding wasn’t at all what I expected.
It’s this that I think causes the polarization. If it’s not what you expected and you don’t like what was delivered then I can see why this book wasn’t for you because expectation and reality aren’t on par here.
What I thought The Binding would deliver:-
A magical historical fiction where Emmett (our main character) discovers that he has the gift of binding and gets apprenticed to an aging female binder.
I thought we would learn the craft alongside Emmett (plus pitfalls) and get meaty world-building as to how binding works and how it fully fits in among this worlds society. I thought we would experience the prejudice directed towards the binders which is rooted in fear of their power but that we would understand why this fear is sometimes justified as there are those who would use their gifts for nefarious means.
I thought we would experience the binding process happening multiple times and dip into the heads of others to feel what they are relinquishing and why. I thought we would be teased with the theme that memory maketh the man (or woman) and that we would ask; how much of ourselves is left if we carve our memories away?
What The Binding delivered:-
A three part love story between Emmett and another; where the focus is less on the ‘magical’ elements of the plot but more on the historical. It’s fantasy – if you squint.
Binding is a device that allows the plot to happen, the fact that Emmett himself is a binder is almost irrelevant as Emmett only binds once and it’s only in the story as a way to get him to where he needs to be via a bit of deus ex machina. We end up learning little to nothing about binding, either as a process or how it fully fits into this world.
We do dip into multiple heads but not in the way you think – the third part of the story deviates from Emmett’s POV into another’s and it’s during this third part that we fully learn the horrors of what happens if people abuse their binding gift by being complicit in the memory extraction from those who are abused. This allows the abusers not just to get away with it (those who suffered remember nothing) but also giving them the power to read their victims recollections of terror.
We learn that people who do the most vile things to others believe that their actions are acceptable but that certain forms of love is wrong. Sadly, this is no massive deviation from real life.
Ultimately if you’re here for magic and a story that’s about the actual ‘binding’ then that’s not what you’re going to get. For that reason I understand why some readers have been disappointed. If you’re not into historical fiction then I also think you’re going to not like it as much either.
I am pretty into historical fiction at the moment so for me I liked the fact that this was historical fiction with a slice of the magical. I was also massively here for the love story and found it to be a wonderful and realistic depiction of ‘antagonist’ to love with the romance poignantly and sensitively portrayed. I enjoyed both of the main characters immensely and their love story was what kept me riveted.
That’s pretty much it.
I genuinely get why some people didn’t feel it was for them but The Binding hit me square in the four chambered organ and I loved the writing, the story, the setting and the characters.
I can’t put into more words than that really. Sometimes we just love what we love. Which is pretty much the point behind The Binding.