The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

Posted On 14 January 2021

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My Five Word TL:DR Review : Didn’t Quite Work for Me

BetrayalsThe Betrayals is a book that I part read and part listened to and I will say before starting this review that I do love the way that Bridget Collins writes.  She has a way of instilling her works with so much atmosphere that even though the story wasn’t quite my ‘thing’ I still wanted to continue reading.

This is a novel with a historic feel although I’m not entirely sure the year in which this takes place.  We begin by making the acquaintance of Léo Martin, a disgraced politician.  Basically Léo had the temerity to disagree with one of the party lines and as a result finds himself demoted to a backsticks position that actually involves a return to his old school.  Montverre is an old school academy where bright young things pitch their wits against each other in an old fashioned game known as the Grand Jeu.  Léo left the school after a tragedy and his return now sets in train a strange unwinding of the past and some startling revelations along the way.

This is a story with a few POVs.  Obviously Léo.  Léo has become complacent over the years, used to his own importance and lulled, in fact, into thinking that his opinions matter much more than they do.  He’s forgotten to keep his head down and is now facing the outcome of his own overblown self importance.  In fairness to Léo he is actually making a stand against a party line that is very harsh and his removal from office gives him time to stand back and see just how extreme things have become.  The politics here are not particularly named but there is an almost fascist feel to the place as though things are on the brink of change, tolerance is low and there’s an underlying current of fear and suspicion.  We also have Léo’s pov from his days as a student told through the pages of a journal that he wrote at the time and so from this you would be right in thinking that the story does jump back and forth in order for us to discover what happened way back when.  The third pov is Magister Ludi – this is the highest office that can be held at Montverre and is currently held by a woman called Claire Dryden.  As the story unfolds it becomes apparent that this shocking admission of a female into a very male centred world and a much sought after position came about through some sleight of hand and it would be an understatement to say that not all the old bastions within the Academy are happy with the ways things have panned out.  Finally, a character known as the Rat – a very unusual perspective and one that I won’t elaborate on here for fear of spoilers.

So, what I liked about this first.  I loved the writing.  As I mentioned above Collins is really amazing at setting the tone and The Betrayals is brimming over with atmosphere.  On top of that I am a little bit of a sucker for any story that’s set within the walls of a school or other learning establishment and the one here is a grand old building with plenty of dusty corridors, dark spaces and secret histories.  There is also a lovely slow reveal of past secrets that went in a direction that was surprisingly and happily unexpected.

What didn’t work too well for me was a combination of wanting more clarity on the grand jeu and what the school was actually about and an overall feeling of not only missing something fundamental along the way but also that the plot didn’t really live up to it’s promise somehow.  I’m not really phrasing that very well but for me it felt like there was going to be a lot more substance to this than the actual outcome left me feeling. Again, I think this is probably down to me not picking up an underlying message or perhaps expecting there to be more to this than was actually intended.

Overall, although this one didn’t totally win me over I would still not hesitate to pick up more books by this author.  She has a style of writing that really works for me and so even though the content for this one didn’t work it’s magic I remain only too happy to read more books by her in the future.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publishers, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

Mr Rating 3 of 5 stars

The Binding by Bridget Collins

Posted On 18 April 2019

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ThebindingThe Binding is a book that I’d been looking forward to picking up for quite some time.  It has an intriguing description that tells us this is “An unforgettable novel of enchantment, mystery, memory, and forbidden love, The Binding is a beautiful homage to the allure and life-changing power of books—and a reminder to us all that knowledge can be its own kind of magic.”  I really enjoyed this for the most part.  It’s a beautifully rendered love story with a historic backdrop and a low fantasy feel.

As the story sets off we make the acquaintance of Emmett a young man who works the land on his family’s farm.  We soon learn that Emmet has been unwell, he seems unable to complete his regular duties and is burdened with feelings of guilt and self-doubt.  Returning home from a day in the fields Emmett hears his parents arguing about a letter they’ve just received – a letter that summons Emmett to become an apprentice book binder.  Books are forbidden and the local binder is thought to be a witch – and yet, Emmett’s parents submit to the request and he’s taken off to begin his apprenticeship.  The first part of the story is really well done.  I found myself easily pulled into the pages and the way of life. There’s enough description of the time and place to create a vivid picture and the entire first part is loaded with tension and mystery.  There is a good deal of significant looks, brimming with meaning, and whispered conversations and just as I was about to explode with the mystery of it all we moved into the second part.

To be honest, it’s difficult to continue the review after this point without giving away spoilers.  Basically the second section of the book takes us back to an earlier period and shines a light on all the secrecy alluded to in the first part.  I loved these chapters.  They had a wild unkempt feeling that put me in mind of Wuthering Heights.  I could envisage the farm and the way of life, the secrets, the forbidden meetings.  Obviously I could see in which direction things were going to go but it all added to the tension and fear for the characters themselves.  Very evocative indeed.

The third section is the part that I struggled with a little and I’m not sure I can completely put my finger on why that is. These chapters take on a very dark and gothic feel, almost Machiavellian in the scheming and intrigue and packed with some pretty nasty characters.  I mean, in some respects I can see what the author was aiming for here and I absolutely love the idea of it.  The sense of despair, of things being too far out of control.  The difference in tempo moving the story out of the country and into the city, the sense of grime, the disparity between the rich and the poor, the exploitation.  It felt almost Dickensian in contrast to the Bronte feel of the first two parts. I guess, for me, it felt a little jarring and maybe a little over the top in terms of what was going on.  I think it could have been calmed down somewhat whereas as it was it felt a little scattered and chaotic.  I think if a little of the busyness had been stripped from this final third this could well have been a perfect read for me.

I can’t tell you too much more about the plot.  The central concept here is one of memories and the power they hold over a person.  It’s not something I’ve really ever considered before and this story definitely gave me some food for thought.

I really enjoyed Collins writing, I thought she had a lovely way with words and I enjoyed the historical feel.  I would say that the fantasy and magic behind the whole aspect of ‘book binding’ is very light and I wouldn’t say that I had a really strong understanding of the binding or how it works.  In fact, I would say that you probably just need to go with it and don’t look too hard for explanations.

I think given the nature of how this story is written readers will likely have very different experiences when they read this.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers love the third part and find the opening chapters a little too drawn out.  Overall, I had a good time with this.  I didn’t love the concluding chapters as much as I’d have liked but I found the first two parts of this very intriguing indeed and I confess that I read the whole story in two sittings I was so gripped.

I received a copy through Edelweiss, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.