Bridget Collins’ The Binding is one book you’ll lust after for your collection with its beautifully finished dust jacket and intricately designed book boards, holding within them the promise that this young man’s story is no ordinary apprentice’s tale.
Imagine you could erase your grief.
Imagine you could forget your pain.
Imagine you could hide a secret.
Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to begin an apprenticeship. He will work for a Bookbinder, a vocation that arouses fear, superstition and prejudice but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.
He will learn to hand-craft beautiful volumes, and within each he will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, he can help. If there’s something you need to erase, he can assist. Your past will be stored safely in a book and you will never remember your secret, however terrible.
In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, row upon row of books and memories are meticulously stored and recorded.
Then one day Emmett makes an astonishing discovery: one of them has his name on it.
The Binding is a remarkably accomplished novel in which Bridget Collins performs some dark alchemy of her own to meld the power of magic and memories with the traditional hand craft of bookbinding and sees a young man’s apprenticeship transform into his calling, the integrity of which he’ll be forced to question when he discovers how others seek to abuse the secrets it hides.
The Binding is split into three sections: the first of these covers Emmett’s apprenticeship, initially in a remote bookbinding workshop on the edge of the marshes and later in the town of Castleford. I couldn’t get enough of the opening half where Emmett learns his craft and almost felt wrenched out of it, grieving a character I’d grown fond of but who was to play no further part.
When the second section threw me into the past, and back into someone’s memories, I once again felt disoriented and it took a little while to right myself. In part, this sensation comes about because Bridget Collins draws me in so deep with her spellbinding storytelling but I also can’t help feeling that she deliberately sets out to upset the equilibrium. It mirrors that felt by Emmett as more of the mystery surrounding his apprenticeship and the memories of others is unlocked. Each time there’s this shift, it throws new light on what’s happening, and ultimately sets up the conflict which plays out in the finale.
The Binding is outstandingly good: a magical mix of mystery, quest, adventure and love story. As an apprentice, Emmett faces a real test of his courage and integrity, and is pitted against those in a position of influence, power and wealth. But this is far more than a power struggle between rich and poor, or even good and evil. It’s also a thought-provoking and intriguing take on how we deal in memories, the vulnerability they open up in us, and whether it is better to experience them or simply lock them away.
The Binding by Bridget Collins is published by The Borough Press, an imprint of Harper Collins and is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback. You can buy it from Amazon UK or from Hive where purchases help support your local independent bookshop. Bridget Collins trained as an actor and is the author of seven acclaimed books for young adults. The Binding is her first adult novel. You can follow the author on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.
I have a signed copy to give away. Leave a comment below and the squirrels will pick a winner at the weekend.