First things first: I loved this book. It’s been a few months since I read it, and I can objectively say, without the warm afterglow of good read, that this is a 5-star novel. That’s why I’ve chosen it as the first book I review on this blog.
Young Emmet Farmer is sent away from his family and home to learn the craft of book-binding from an eccentric mistress, Seredith. Not so bad, you’d think. Except in Emmet’s world, Book-binders are feared and mistrusted, because they wield a special kind of power. They have the power to make you forget your worst memories, by binding them in a book.
Imagine you could erase your grief.
Imagine you could forget your pain.
Imagine you could hide a secret.
Who knows what secrets they know? They take advantage of people in desperate situations… some unscrupulous binders have been known to sell people’s most painful memories, the moments they couldn’t bear to remember. These are the types of rumours that follow Binders. Not a generation ago, they were persecuted in a bloody war. Emmet was always told to stay away from books, as if they were some evil magic.
But he doesn’t have a choice. The Binder has offered him this apprenticeship, and he dare not refuse it. He’s been sick, and he can’t work the family farm any more. Whole months of his life have passed in a confused fever, and he feels disgusted by his own fragility. So he goes, and he learns the craft.
Living in seclusion, he is immersed in the physical craft of making books. The covers, endpapers and spines – he learns how to make them all. When the people come to have their memories bound, however, he is kept away. He is not ready to hear their stories, not yet. He is slowly shedding his superstitions and prejudices about the practice of Binding. He can see the therapeutic value in it, and understands Seredith’s calling in life a little more every day. Emmet is beginning to recover from his affliction, both physically and mentally, when he finds a book with his name on it in Seredith’s vault. It reveals to him the the reason why his whole life was turned upside down: binder-bound fever. What memory was so terrible that he had it bound forever within the leaves of a magical book?
Part Two of The Binding shows us that story – and it’s a tragically beautiful one. It’s full of intrigue, bravery, secrets, love, hate, betrayals, and romance. The final section is a lot darker, and casts the healing atmosphere of the first part in stark relief. It’s difficult reading, with downright disgusting characters and scenes. And yet it was this section which elevated the Binding from being good to great. It tackles abuse in its myriad guises, and ultimately has the message that there’s always something that can and should be done. This book makes you examine your inner self and ask ‘what would I do?’
The Binding is not a perfect book. It’s not as advertised – the fantasy/magical elements are minimal. The pacing in the first section is slow and the ending isn’t quite satisfactory. But man, it will make you FEEL things. The characters and their relationships are many layered things, and the historical setting is extremely well researched. I’m not sure if there will be a sequel or not, but I will absolutely snap it up if there is.
I know a lot of you reading this review will have already read this book, so let me know what you thought of it. Do you agree with my 5 star rating? Or would you give it 1 star? Leave a comment!