In an indeterminate time, in a place called Castleford, England, books were feared because they could be used to remove memories, and essentially, a piece of a life. For some, memory removal was voluntary, as it was meant to be. Disturbing memories that could no longer be tolerated were removed and bound into books bearing their name. Memories that haunted them disappeared. For some, however, the memories were removed so that they could be abused over and over again by disreputable people. Others sold their memories for enough money to purchase the bare necessities of their lives, simply to survive.
Although it was forbidden to sell the stories of people still living, to prevent their pain or shame from getting out into the light of day, a black market had developed by unscrupulous book dealers for those very books. Like voyeurs, there were those who enjoyed reading about the suffering of others or of causing suffering which they could then wipe from the memory of their victims and subsequently abuse them again and again. Victims were often needy and coerced to be bound by their betters. As more and more memories were removed, they became empty vessels. However, there were certain people who were entertained by reading about the lives of those less fortunate and their rather sordid experiences. There existed a great divide between the common folk and those who were well-to-do, in both class and education.
Although, books were feared and forbidden in some families, bookbinding was considered to be an art by the more scrupulous book dealers. They were covered in beautiful fabrics with carefully hand-drawn, artistic designs. However, the cheaper versions were less well made and were mass produced for those able to afford to purchase them. The stories of the dead who had been bound could be more widely circulated.
Emmett Farmer and his sister Alta, lived happily on their farm with their parents until the day that Lucian Darnay became their neighbor. Darnay was a young lad of considerable charm, and both Farmer children were smitten by him, although Emmett’s feelings about Darnay confused him and caused him considerable angst. His sister Alta immediately fell head over heels in love. Darnay came from wealth, and he could even be her ticket out of poverty, if he loved her and married her. It was rare, but sometimes the wealthy did cross class lines and marry someone “beneath” their stature in life.
The wealthy had all the power and they wielded it mercilessly. Soon, Darnay’s presence in the lives of the Farmer family created chaos and upheaval, causing great suffering. Emmett, forced to become a bookbinder, is sent away, probably to never see his family again. It is a task to which he is said to have been born. He had already been bound himself, suffering great torment in the process.
The author handles the difficult and delicate subject of homosexuality beautifully. This novel becomes a love story, above all else. It never descends into coarseness or obscenity, and rather, it lifts the subject to a higher plane, removing the stigma and highlighting the devotion and the sacrifices that those who love each other are willing to make.
The story held my attention, but it often seemed to wander off in unknown directions. When reading books of this genre, the reader is led to wonder if this could ever happen in the real world; could this fantasy ever become reality? Sometimes, the narrative lacked that credibility. Overall, though, the book is a good science fiction read.
Speaking of bindings, I loved the way this book is bound. The cover can act as a book mark, on either end, and the detail on the cover conveys the artful workmanship and value that bookbinders placed on the books they legitimately produced. In addition, the font and page weight is comfortable and inviting, making the book an easy read.