The Binding

by Bridget Collins | Science Fiction & Fantasy |
ISBN: 9780008272142 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 6/26/2022
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Sunday, June 26, 2022
I got this softcover at a yard sale in Hudson NH, for another release copy.

What a marvelous - and unusual - book! I was caught up in it from the first page, with the growing details of what "binding" meant in this universe, and how it would impact the lives of the characters. The book opens from the viewpoint of Emmett Farmer, a teenager living on his family's farm, where he was content - until a sudden illness left him unable to do much of anything for some time. A scary illness, too, involving hallucinations and screaming fits and having to be tied down for his own protection... Now he's still weak, struggling to perform basic chores, and feeling guilty over leaving his family vulnerable. When a letter arrives indicating the start of his new apprenticeship to a bookbinder, he's horrified and doesn't want to go - but his family, all of whom are behaving awkwardly around this situation, insist, including his beloved sister. (The foreshadowing here is intense; it's painfully clear that *something* bad happened, something Emmett can't remember, but that none of his family wants to even hint at.)

Once Emmett reaches his new home, he finds Seredith, a crusty, tart old woman who seems to know him already - and who does know why he's been so ill. Indeed, when he has another attack, after meeting another young man who's come to Seredith for a binding - a handsome aristocratic youth who also seems to recognize him, and not fondly (the foreshadowing is strong with this one!), Seredith explains that he's a binder himself, and that his illness is a side effect of his abilities.

Emmett is not happy about this. However, having some kind of answer - and the pledge that the illness will fade as he comes into his powers - does help a little. And once he begins to learn what binding really is, he even starts to think this might be OK... until his new master falls ill and a wealthy binder from the city turns up and takes over.

The whole nature of "binding" is rather fascinating. In this world, "books" mean "written records of the memories that someone has voluntarily given up"; there are no other kinds of books - well, aside from business ledgers and that kind of thing. (There are rumors that some people are creating false books, writing down things that didn't actually happen; they call these "novels" and consider them horrifying, lies throughout. This has a certain deliberate irony {wry grin}.) Seredith's view of this is as a sacred calling, to be used to ease psychological trauma by letting someone give up memories of their own suffering and/or guilt, enabling them to live without constant anguish. This means that the patient must volunteer willingly, and the book will be kept safe and private. Seredith crafts exquisite and highly personal covers for these works, turning them into little shrines to the pain and grief that's been excised. (The books must be kept safe from damage; if they are destroyed the memories will return. Only the books of those who have died can be destroyed without causing significant trauma.) But Seredith's views are not shared by all binders, and Emmett soon learns that the city is full of commercial binders - they buy memories from those who need money, sell the resulting books to people who are eager to experience tidbits from the lives of others, and are not always particular as to whether the sellers are giving fully informed consent.

And, worse - much, much worse - are those who use binding to extract memories of their own misdeeds from their victims. Sometimes this is done once, to avoid being called to account, but the main villain of the piece habitually has the victims of his sexual predations bound - so that he can attack them all over again, as if it were the first time, AND so that he can read their memories and experience their views of his deeds. The guy's a monster of the first water {shudder}.

Since "consent" is obviously not applicable when a master commands a subordinate or a desperately poor person is faced with selling or starving, the whole industry becomes suspect. And when we come to find out what happened to Emmett and to Lucian - the youth he met at Seredith's - the ways in which the binding ability can be misused become even more disturbing.

The story unfolds in stages, first from Emmett's viewpoint as he starts to learn about binding, then a flashback - Emmett has found a book with his name on it, and in desperation winds up unlocking memories that explain a LOT about what he's been through. And the final section switches viewpoints entirely, as we see things from Lucian's side, hoping against hope that the young man can find a way out of the increasingly fraught situation he's in...

I should note that there are some discussion points here as to whether ANY of the bindings are worthwhile; characters do debate the question of whether erasing a trauma is an effective way of helping the victim, or if working through it would be better. It does seem that the loss of even horrible memories leaves the patient somehow "less", but there might be situations where it's useful. Oh, and Lucian has a favorite childhood book (he's an aristocrat whose family was very casual about the buying and selling of books) that held the memories of someone's delightfully happy and charming life, and it's only when Lucian realizes the full impact of what binding is that he wonders why that man gave up such marvelous memories. I like to think that he was nearing the end of his own life and chose to sell them before he died, perhaps to benefit loved ones, but we never find out; there could have been much darker reasons... Anyway, the whole idea of living vicariously through the memories of others resonates with modern social media, though - so far - people don't have to give up their memories in order to share them.

Very involving story!

Released 1 mo ago (6/26/2022 UTC) at Chelmsford (see notes for details) in Chelmsford, Massachusetts USA


I left this book, bagged against the elements, on a bench in the Chelmsford Gardens on North Road across from the common. Hope someone enjoys it!

[See other recent releases in MA here.]

** Released for the 2022 Allergic to A challenge. **

*** Released for the 2022 June Pride LGBTQ+ challenge. **

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