[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
This was a little of a rollercoaster book for me, in that the blurb -is- pretty misleading when it comes to the expectations it rises—so there were quite a few chapters when my interest ebbed and flowed, as I poised between “this is not what I wantedto read” and “that’s pretty interesting” and “I expected something different in terms of world-building”, etc. Especially, there’s a romance element that is -not- in the blurb, and since I’m not a big fan of romance for the sake of romance in general, my first reaction was pretty much ‘ugh, no, not yet another romance plot, you should’ve warned me about this, since I don’t feel like reading romance these days’.
However, as everything settled, as the plot fully came together, as I got to know the characters more, this change of mood abated, and I found that I was actually liking this novel. I do regret that the art of binding wasn’t explored more in depths, with deeper explanations of how it worked, and this is something that disappointed me until the end. Still, I nevertheless felt myself rooting for several characters, getting angry at how other people treated them, didn’t accept them, at the rampant intolerance, too. It wasn’t ‘enjoyable’ (I so wanted to slap the parents), no. The main characters were often annoying in many ways, too. But it made for a good story.
I must say that I usually have several pet peeves when it comes to romance (yes, there’s some romance in it), one of the major ones being when the lovers lose sight of priorities (typical example: “who will she chose, the boy she loves, or saving the world?” --> everybody knows that 99% of the time, the world is doomed). Here, there is strong potential for turning these characters’ world(s) upside down, but I didn’t get that feeling of thwarted sense of priorities, because all in all, most characters had bleak prospects to start with, and what hinged on them was something that wouldn’t have made so many other people happy anyway: arranged marriages, bad job prospects, abuse, cannot go back to their old lives, etc.
Speaking of abuse, the world Emmett lives in is rather bleak in that regard as well. It reminded me a lot—and that was no doubt on purpose o nthe author’s part—of 19th century novels, with a strong country/town dichotomy: the countryside as a ‘pure, natural, innocent’ world where people have a chance to be happy, vs. the town as polluted, home to crime and vice, and where the wealthy treat servants and poorer people in general as dirt, as toys that can be broken and then mended at will. While the abuse is not depicted in gory ways, and usually alluded to rather than directly witness, the allusions are not veiled either. It is very clear who rapes their servants, and who gets others murdered for the sake of their own interests. Those aren’t triggers for me, but they could still be depending on the reader. All in all, that also reminded me of other literary movements of that time: there’s no shortage of showing people being sick, reduced to their ‘bodily functions’, shown as the cowards they are, and so on. If you’ve read Zola, you’ll know what I mean. This novel doesn’t sing the praises of human beings in general, for sure, and shows most people as being weak at best, and hidden monsters at worst.
I am… bizarrely satisfied with the ending. It’s fairly open, and there are still many loose ends, but it also allows the book to close on a kind of resolution that I found fitting, balancing between “it could still turn so sour so quickly” and “well, there’s hope left and the future looks kinda good”.
Conclusion: 3.5 stars