★☆☆☆☆
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Review: The Binding by Bridget Collins

If you enjoyed that 2001 blockbuster Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind … then maybe consider watching that again, it’s ever so good. What’s not good, however, is this book. Its plot is literally exactly the same (*ahem* spoiler alert), except, somehow, shittier. Way shittier. And also includes a very brutal dog murder on page 286. And that’s not even the half of it.
Welcome to: This Book Was Not For Me and Now You Have to Hear About It!

Emmett Farmer is … a farmer. Yes, that just about sums up the amount of creativity this author put into the character, for Emmett Farmer the farmer is duller than a lump of mud. He’s the type of guy who, as a friend of mine brilliantly quipped, is utterly flummoxed by the world he lives in, every day of his life. He didn’t start off well in my eyes, having fainted twice in the same chapter. And as the story progressed, so did his tendency to do a really fun thing where half of his dialogue literally involves just … stating the obvious.

“You can’t set fire to the house while she’s in it. That’s murder.”

The boy would not even emote. And when he finally did start, it felt so very forced – and the author seemed to want to refuse to focus on his feelings, but would settle with describing in detail the reactions in his body. And she did this all the time, it was weird.

“At first it was an involuntary as being sick: great paroxysms like retching, each spasm driven by an unpitying reflex that made me gasp and sob for air. But slowly the urgency eased, and I had the time to catch a lungful of air between sobs; and then at last I wiped the wetness and snot off my face, and opened my eyes. The sense of loss was still sharp enough to make the tears rise again, but I blinked them away and this time I managed to master my breath.”

Three very long lines and I still have no idea what this guy is actually feeling. Other than sad.

You may be wondering, at this point in the review, what the hell the plot of this novel is and, honestly SAME. The premise was actually very intriguing: Emmett is chosen to become a Binder’s apprentice, someone who creates books – special books – which are considered immoral by all. Naturally, there is an unhealthy amount of “let’s not tell the protagonist what these books are, even though he is literally learning to make them right now, he still mustn’t know until the halfway point of this novel”. So it was wonderful and not at all annoying as hell to watch Emmett blunder around, stating the obvious yet still missing it at the same time. Another spoiler for you: these books contain people’s memories.

So at this point, the only thing keeping me going was the promise of a good reveal, at this point. The MC infuriated me, the setup was cringe, the world-building was non-existent (the synopsis calls it “a place vaguely reminiscent of 19th-century England” – see, even the synopsis doesn’t know!) and the only thing that did not annoy me was the perfectly adequate style of prose, which was very easy to slip into. I had learned from the synopsis that the twist in this story is that Emmett one day discovers a book that has his name on it and, yes, I wanted to see what all that was about. I had a theory that his entire personality would come flooding back to him if he opened the book, and he would remember his exciting former escapades as a Highwayman, and the reason he had chosen to hide his memories in a book was to outrun the law! Or, you know, something groovy like that.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

It becomes clear, after 100+ pages of preamble and nothing more, that actually what he had been forced to forget was … his love affair with a man.

Now. Let’s unpack this.

Seems like I stumbled upon a Romance novel disguised as a mystery pseudo-fantasy. Bit rude, considering I never sign up to read Romance, but since this book wasn’t marketed as one, I’m not going to review it as one. Who knows, to some it may be a very fulfilling love story. Me, I wanted a plot. Spoiler alert: there was none – all that followed was the a highly toxic relationship between two young men and a fight to remember each other. Why were they fighting to remember each other? I shall tell you.

Turns out, in whatever world this story takes place (“a place vaguely reminiscent of bla bla bla”) homosexuality is awful, and all that jazz. That’s right, when author Bridget Collins was faced with the prospect of, you know, building her world, she sat down and thought “well, there’ll be an inkling of magic that I’ll never bother to really explain, and I will rely on deeply ingrained prejudices in our world to help move my little love story along.”

Do we get any sort of explanation as to why two men loving each other is so wrong? Do we get any form of social commentary that focuses on dismantling this terrible relief? Does the story have a satisfying conclusion wherein the protagonist confronts the homophobes and, well, does something?

I know you can see where I’m going with this.

What we do get is a nice little passage that implies sexuality is a choice and being gay is worse than rape.

“Whatever I did, I chose to get rid of it. I chose. All the things my father does – it must be worse than that, worse than anything I can imagine … So don’t you dare tell me that I should want it back.”

Yes, this character (the lover, Lucian) forgot about his love affair and claims that whatever he forgot must be worse than the shit his father pulls, which at the moment we know is: woohoo – rape!

Do we get a bit of commentary about internalised homophobia?? Do we get a plot that involves addressing inner trauma, confronting the bigoted pillars of this ‘world’, and emerging victorious? Nooooooooooooo!

Then why. the fuck. would you put. a line like that. in your story?
What was the point of the whole thing?! What is this story attempting to achieve? What do these characters actually do apart from dance around their very gay feelings for each other? Well, they act like proper dicks for the entire 400+ pages and then can’t be bothered to stop rapes and murders and then aww in the end they do love each other.

This story is nothing more than a thinly veiled Paranormal Romance. Except that Paranormal writers put far more effort into their world-building. And LGBTQIA+ creators are far more responsible with their representation. Come on Collins, I appreciate that you wanted to throw a little diversity into the mainstream, but this is irresponsible and damaging! You lure absolutely anyone to your story, which is supposed to just be some sort of magical mystery, and you ambush us all with a very tragic gay love story in a world full of homophobes – which no one signed up for. And I’m not even going to mention the rest of the disturbing content which, in 2020, have we not all agreed to do trigger warnings for??

In short: this book can 100% do one.

I don’t do zero-star reviews as I save those for the books I DNF (a.k.a not finished, not rated). So here’s one obligatory star for you, Collins. Maybe you can spend it on a sensitivity reader.


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