Book Review: The Binding by Bridget Collins

Publication Date

10 January 2019


Fantasy, Magical Realism, Alternative History, Historical Fiction

Star Rating



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.

We’ve been called witches since the beginning of time. Word-cunning, they used to call it – of a piece with invoking demons… We were burned for it too. The crusade wasn’t new, we’ve always been scapegoats. Well, knowledge is a type of magic, I suppose.

I adore the concept of this book. A world in which books are magical things with the power to hold memories safe.

The majority of The Binding is written from the POV book of Emmet. A farmers son who has come down with a strange sickness and is no longer able to run his fathers farm. He is sent for by Seredith, who is a binder. A binder has the ability to trap memories in books, and leave the holder of the memory free of it, forever. Seredith knows that Emmets sickness is binder-bound fever, a sickness that powerful binders get, and Emmet has a particularly bad case. She wishes to take him on as her apprentice.

Emmet doesn’t know anything about binding. He’s from a family who sees it as dark magic, and have always sought to hide it from their children. Emmet asks Seredith frequently what it is, but she always refuses; he is just too sick.

Things change again for Emmet when Seredith becomes sick herself, and he is forced to apprentice for another binder. De Hallivand is an wholly unlikable character, he treats his staff like vermin and sees binding as nothing but a profit spinner. He sends Emmet to do a binding for a wealthy family who uses his services regularly. Here, Emmet learns what sort of binder De Hallivand really is.

I’m going to be honest, at this point, I was just starting to get a little bit bored. It is heavily hinted at throughout the book that Emmet has been bound himself, and it is that mystery that carried me through until this point (we are around halfway in here). I wanted to know the truth, I wanted to know his secret. What had he done that was so bad? And I was getting frustrated, it just wasn’t coming fast enough.

And then, bam, emmet finds his book, and we are catapulted into the past, to find out Emmets forgotten life. And the whole book transformed. It is now a butterfly, bright and exciting and full of wonder. And love. And heartbreak… And I hated it. And I loved it.

In the first half of The Binding, Bridget Collins does an amazing job at tackling the complications which could arise from voluntarily giving up your memories. We see the various ways it can be abused, and it leaves the reader with an uncomfortable feeling in the stomach.

And then the second half.. the beautiful, heartwarming second half, works as a commentary on intolerance, and the value of men vs women, which works wonderfully in the 19th century setting.

I was spellbound by this book. It almost made it to my favourite read of 2020 (I realise it’s only February, but it will take something amazing to push it down that list). It’s a book I won’t be forgetting very easily.

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