Binding is a mysterious art, considered dangerous witchcraft by many, including Emmet’s family. But when a letter arrives summoning Emmet to begin an apprenticeship with a Bookbinder, to learn the craft, he isn’t given a choice in the matter. He will go, willing or otherwise, to learn how to craft books and bind within them a person’s memory. The people who seek out a binder’s services are often desperate, but through the strange art of binding their past can be stored safely within a book, and they no longer need to be burdened with their own dark secrets.
Emmet is still finding his way in this confusing new world when he finds something he never expected: a book with his own name on it.
The Binding, by Bridget Collins, feels like a few different books wrapped up into one. Part mystery, part interpersonal drama, part fantasy, part passionate love story, entirely engrossing from start to finish. The book does feel like it rather abruptly changes direction about a third of the way through, which could have been a problem, but the new elements of the story pulled me right in and I had no trouble following the plot.
Collins’ characters don’t leap off the page at first glance, they have subtlety, they have layers to uncover that make them worth getting to know. I loved Emmet; put through a series of increasingly bewildering scenarios, he maintained a sense of decency and a determination to take responsibility that I found really endearing. The fantasy elements woven into the story are similarly understated, although binding feels like it must be a kind of magic there are no incantations or rituals, and there is far more attention paid to the real-world consequences of this ability than the origins or method of it.
In some ways I found this disappointing. Being a big fan of fantasy, I was initially drawn to the book on the basis of this mystery power, but I think the more mystical elements of the plot were given enough page time to feel integral without being allowed to take over the story. In the end, this is a book about people, not a book about magic, and I’m more than okay with that.
The writing was serviceable, occasionally clunky but never to an off-putting extent, and the plot unfolds with a logical consistency that means even the most surprising moments make perfect sense within the context of the characters and broader story. There’s a lot of humour in the writing, I laughed out loud more than once while reading, and scenes with high emotional stakes communicate that effectively and keep you absolutely gripped.
The Binding is a unique story, weaving together familiar plot threads to make something unlike anything I’ve read before. It has some mature themes, including references to sexual abuse and self-harm, so even though it’s careful not to be too explicit I’d be wary of recommending it to very young readers or those sensitive to those issues. If that doesn’t put you off though, and you like a little touch of magic and mystery with your stories, this is a captivating and utterly original story well worth diving into.