In many ways, The Binding is an unpretentious work of escapist fiction. The morality of the book is simple; the good are essentially noble and their enemies unambiguously wicked ... But while some elements are overfamiliar, every detail is bracingly specific and real ... Collins also masterfully conveys the interior life of her characters, particularly the altered states of love, and the book becomes truly spellbinding as Emmett is drawn vertiginously toward sexual love and its dazzling aftermath ... The Binding becomes a parable of 'Don’t ask, don’t tell' and the #MeToo movement, one that makes it clear that even our memories can be colonized ... Many readers of The Binding will simply sink gratefully into the pleasures of its pages, because, like all great fables, it also functions as transporting romance.
Collins’ interest in bookbinding is apparent in her enchanting descriptions of these vessels of memories. She also found inspiration in her work with the Samaritans, the British charity organization she volunteered with, working with people who had experienced trauma. The Binding is an imaginative, thought-provoking tale of how—for better and worse—moments can define who we become.
Collins’s vivid descriptions of the abuse of magic within a grimy faux-Victorian-era world of workhouses and exploitation are almost too painfully true ... both characters are given the power to move the plot, the world and each other ... Other characters do wind up as footnotes: Emmett’s sister is an uneasy shape in the narrative, a giggling girl who occasionally emerges as a deliberate schemer in order, it seems, to soften the real harm done to her by Emmett and his lover, to make them less guilty. Darnay’s father, on the other hand, is difficult to swallow not because he isn’t believable — entirely the opposite — but because he’s so monstrous it’s hard to imagine any child of his not being damaged far worse and far younger than Lucian seems to have been. ... succeeds in creating the magic it proposes: the experience of memory returning, a rush of recollection that can change the whole world, if only for one person at a time — or sometimes two.
If the premise sounds like it can get a little heavy-handed, I thought it did at times ... at its heart, The Binding is an elegant, lush, slow-burn romance --- and that's what I wanted from it! The romance is the driving force of the entire narrative, and it's both sensual and beautifully evoked. I didn't like that it had to be 'forbidden.' It's a fantasy world with magical memory loss, but everyone is just as homophobic as they are in the real world? Sigh. And I didn't love getting caught up in the morally messy intricacies of how men would use memory manipulation to repeatedly brutalize women while I was trying to watch this absolutely gorgeous love story unfold ... There are certainly other readers who may enjoy the premise and form more than I did. And ultimately, despite my discomfort at these elements, I couldn't help but fall for Collins' well-written unreliable narrators, her eloquent magical prose, and the tender, fierce love story at the core of this novel.
Collins’s solid first adult novel (following several YA novels) is a haunted, Dickensian fantasia ... but the novel suffers from portentous conversations and a few plot points that the characters don’t realistically react to. Emmett is a YA protagonist, too—sullen, reluctant, wrapped in victimhood. This is an enjoyable novel for readers of any age, but the story remains YA at its heart.