Review: The Binding – Sweetly Flawed and Somewhat Forgettable

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Title: The Binding
Author: Bridget Collins
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
Release Date: January 7th, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Memories
Page Count: 448 (hardback)

Rating: 7.0/10

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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.

flourish

 

“Don’t think of it as a fantasy. Think of it as a romance” was the mantra I repeated to myself when I started this book because I’d heard it was less of a fantasy and more of a relationship-focused story with a tinge of magic, and I was determined to do whatever it took to love it.

Because guys. I adore stories about memories. I mean, I adore memories, period. I love the nitty-gritty cellular study of it, and as a wannabe armchair philosopher, I love musing about it in the wee hours of the morning. And I especially love it when the sciences and humanities decide to join hands and create masterpieces like The Endless Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Now, The Binding isn’t science fiction. But it is historical fantasy holding hands with queer romance–which I figured was the next best thing.

So I was ready to overlook a lot of stuff, and I did.

I could overlook the vague details surrounding the process of binding and the history of how it came to be, because a lot romance stories tend to be light on worldbuilding. I could also overlook the very convenient series of events leading up to the ending, because this isn’t trying to be a masterfully plotted story. And I could overlook the ending feeling a little unfinished because, hey, satisfying endings are hard to pull off.

But I could not overlook the main character. More specifically, I couldn’t overlook the main character being bland and shallow and more or less a blank slate from beginning to end.

Emmett’s narration (totaling about 2/3 of the book) is a frustrating example of first person PoV being used like a third person. With his ailments and memory loss he would have been the perfect character to deep dive into–which first person should allow and entourage us to do–but we never end up getting past the surface layer. And his surface layer presents him as farmer’s son who becomes a bookbinder who’s also kind of judgemental of the people he meets. And…that’s about it.

Lucian, his love interest, is a far more interesting character and once his narration takes over last 1/3 of the story, things really kick off for the better. We get a little more insight into binding and how it can abused in the hands of wrong people, and the suffocating atmosphere of Lucian’s household is portrayed very well. I also quite enjoyed seeing the changing developments in their relationship from his perspective.

But at the end of the day, a love story isn’t a one-person show. If I can’t connect with one of the involved parties, I can’t fully connect with the story as a whole.

So while I didn’t dislike the book–it was a pleasant read for the most part, with some genuinely beautiful and thought-provoking moments–I’m still fiercely disappointed because it could have been so much more. A deeper love story and a deeper look into the erasure of memories and whether the loss of pain is an acceptable trade-off for the loss of yourself. And I’m having a hard time getting over that.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.Β 

19 thoughts on “Review: The Binding – Sweetly Flawed and Somewhat Forgettable

  1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

    Great review! I love the idea behind this novel, which is why I picked up a copy, but I had no idea the romance is LGBT+??? Maybe I just haven’t read enough reviews, but why haven’t I seen this yelled about more!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. arubunwritten says:

    You know, I think there has been a lot of hype around this book solely because of how beautiful the cover is. So it’s disappointing to see that the book itself isn’t great. It has such an interesting premise as well, but I’m not the biggest fan of romance being the main plot and especially not if the main character is flat. Great review as always Kathy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      I mean, the cover IS super pretty! πŸ˜€ And I think readers (including myself) are intrigued by the the idea of book binding and especially *magical* book binding. So I know a lot of people were disappointed that it was more of a romance-driven story.

      I so wish there were more fantasy books about book binders. Aside from this, I think the last one I read was the Inkheart series? Which was a looong time ago!

      Like

      • arubunwritten says:

        Yeah, props to the designer!

        100%, especially as book binding these days is all done in factories (the giant printers are pretty cool, but it’s not a craft!).

        I never finished reading Inkheart, so I don’t think I’ve come across any books on binding!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. elissa says:

    I just started seeing this everywhere but hadn’t heard much from anyone who’d actually read it yet. Great review! It sounds like a good library book (not one that I’d run out to buy immediately) πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      There’s been a lot of buzz about the book, for sure! From what I’ve seen, people either seem to think it’s the best thing they’ve read this year, or they’re disappointed by it. I do recommend giving it a try sometime because who knows, you might belong to the first group! πŸ˜€

      Like

  4. Papertea and Bookflowers says:

    Oh, I a little sad that this book didn’t seem to dive deep into memories. The premise sounds so good, but I think I would feel similar to you. Missed potential is almost more disappointing than just a bad book overall. When you can see everything is there and just needs a little bit more …
    And as I’m a character-focused reader I’m not too keen on reading a book with a bland character.
    I might still give this a try in the future, simply because just like you, I love stories that explore memories/loss of memories etc., but it’s not a priority anymore.
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Thanks, El! My feelings on the book are super conflicting, even now. It definitely had its great moments, and the romance IS sweet, but like you said, missed potential is somehow worse than just plain bad. It’s still worth checking out at some point, though! Especially since you like stories about memories!

      Like

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