Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

Posted On 26 November 2020

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SinMy Five Word TL:DR Review : I really enjoyed this debut

The Sin Eater is set in a very loosely disguised England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1.  As we all know, this was a tumultuous period for the people of England when people’s faith was sorely put to the test and this, in my mind, seems to be the inspiration for the Sin Eater.  I was fascinated by this premise, enough so that I even went to do some more reading about sin eating when I finished this novel and that’s always a strong sign that the book has really worked its magic.

May is 14 years old when, caught for stealing bread, she is sentenced to become a sin eater.  A fate worse than death it would seem.  As a sin eater May is shunned by everyone, she really does become unheard and unseen, apart from those moments when taking a deathbed confession and recounting the foods to be eaten.  Sin eaters wear a collar so that all may know their profession and shun them, plus their tongue is branded with a letter S.  In this reimagined England only women become sin eaters and different foods represent different sins.

So, May is sentenced, and apprenticed to an older sin eater who she follows to observe the rituals.  Full of fear and superstition herself May is terrified of eating the sins of others.  One day the two find themselves taken to the Queen’s court and this is where the intrigue begins.  Sin eaters only eat the foods that relate to the sins recalled and so when a deer heart appears on the body of a royal governess, when she did not confess to the murder it represents, the older sin eater refuses to eat it.  She is thrown into prison and tortured to death.  May then finds herself completely alone, she suspects foul deeds at Court and when she is called back she begins to develop her own suspicions of what is taking place.  Unfortunately, this puts her in a rather dangerous predicament that means she must tread carefully or follow the cruel fate of the previous sin eater.

There are a number of things that worked really well for me with this story.

The writing.  I thought this was a really strong aspect and I was very quickly pulled into the story.  This was a brutal time in which to live – and even more so for women.  People frequently went without food and the penalties for theft were harsh.  I thought Campisis did a wonderful job of depicting the times without the need for flowery prose.

The MC.  I liked May, or more to the point I liked her character arc.  I think the first thing you have to bear in mind here is May’s age.  She is very young when this cruel burden is placed upon her, of course the period was hard for everyone and children didn’t have the luxury of a ‘real’ childhood and in that respect May isn’t the exception.  It’s more that she now finds herself (almost) completely shunned and it’s the horror that she herself experiences that really comes across.  We witness her internal turmoil as she comes to grips with what a sin eater really is and also her own lightbulb moment as she realises that there is a certain freedom in being completely ignored or unseen.  In fact it’s this freedom that really puts her into danger, because not everyone is afraid of the sin eater.

Thankfully, not everyone is quite as superstitious, when it comes to sin eaters and so May does have some interaction with other characters along the way.  Some of these interactions are unwanted and it’s nice to see May eventually coming to the realisation that she does have some control over this aspect of her life.

I love historical novels and I don’t tend to read as much of them as I used to so when I do pick one up it often feels refreshingly different.  The author has thinly disguised the period here but it’s still blatantly obvious who the characters are and also the particular scandal that fuels the story and I just loved the whole idea of the sin eater with all the lore that surrounds it.  The types of food and drink and the sins they represent being one particular example, the strange twist on old nursery rhymes being another.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t really have much.  I think the mystery is not the strongest element of the story here but for me it didn’t really matter too much because I was so immersed in May’s plight.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the Sin Eater.  It feels like a very original concept on which to base the intrigues of court and I will certainly look for more work by this author in the future.

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

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars

31 Responses to “Sin Eater by Megan Campisi”

  1. sjhigbee

    Great review, Lynn! I also enjoyed this one. My only grizzle was the fact that she tried to disguise that it was an alternate history in the time of the Tudors – like you, I researched the issue of Sin Eaters and found that indeed, it was a thing. But never to the extent that is depicted in this intriguing book…

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, I knew about sin eating, or at least I had heard of it before (probably in a fictional book) but I thought it was much simpler – I found a piece by the author that explained her reasoning behind the concept. Just reading the book it occurred to me that maybe sin eating was a thing due to the changes in faith from catholic to church of england and the fact that CoE doesn’t have a confessional in fact that was why I was intrigued enough to look it up? But I’m probably wrong with that assumption. I was thinking she chose an alternate version so that she could tinker with real events without people becoming too irrate about inaccuracies. Lol.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        You’re probably right – but there are a lot of alternate histories that use real-world aspects, and then wander off to the alternate option. My understanding is that it was a custom that was most common in villages across the Welsh Marches and in Wales itself – and that it continued in some rural spots right up and into the 1800s. I think it’s a fascinating book and one that has stayed with me…

      • @lynnsbooks

        Yeah, I read about that too – and it’s definitely a book that stayed with me. One of those historical fiction books that just rings a bell somehow. Did you ever read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks? Thats another book that really worked well for me and remains fresh.
        Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        No I haven’t! I haven’t read much historical fiction this year – I’ve got a couple of Matthew Shardlake books lined up, but haven’t got to them yet. I’ll make a note of this one – thank you for the recommendation, Lynn!

      • @lynnsbooks

        Oh, it’s not a new book. From quite a few years back in fact. It was set in a time of plague and concerned a particular village (somewhere near Bakewell maybe/? Can’t remember the name) that actually decided to quarantine the village when the plague first struck (loosely based on facts) and a really good read.
        Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        Is it based on the story of the village of Eyam? I remember this one particularly vividly because my daughter was in a play about it for her GCSE Drama (they always used to pick the most horrendously depressing plays to do!) and they did a wonderful job.

      • @lynnsbooks

        Yes, I’ve just looked it up and it is Eyam. Such a good read (although the very ending was a little unusual) I felt at the time. I still have very fond memories of that book though.
        Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        Ah – thank you:)). I’ve put it on my TBR list – though at the moment, I’ve got a bit of a backlog…

      • @lynnsbooks

        Yes, I feel that.
        Lynn 😀

  2. Tammy

    This sounds fascinating. I may need to find a copy. Thanks for sharing, Lynn😁

  3. Ola G

    The concept sounds very intriguing, and I’m encouraged by your review that the execution doesn’t let down either! I do love some good historical fiction, I might keep this one in mind for the future. Great review, Lynn!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I actually really enjoyed this. Obviously the ‘sin eating’ aspect is changed in a number of ways in that only women eat sins and there are a long list of foods for transgressions, it’s also a thinly veiled alternate history but I’m guessing the author went down that route so she could be more creative without people saying things weren’t historically correct. I think the mystery was a little weak but I liked the main character and her arc and I was very intrigued.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    The cover looks familiar, but after reading your summary and review I think this is new to me. It does sound really good and a 4.5 from you means I need to look out for it!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Well, it felt like a good change of pace for me. I keep hitting books that I expect to love and having to put them down so this one was a great palate cleanser and a really great concept with the sin eating. The mystery kind of played second fiddle for me as I was more interested in the MC and reading about her coming to terms with this new, rather horrible, way of life.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Prachi

    Thanks for writing this review! I have the Netgalley ARC for this book just sitting on my shelf and probably needed a good review to get to reading it 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I hope you enjoy it. I did used to enjoy a lot more historical fiction but have veered more to fantasy in recent years so it was nice to dip back in and it felt refreshingly different.
      Lynn 😀

  6. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Intriguingly fascinating! Even though this seems to be set in an alternate historical period, I gathered that there are enough parallels with reality to make this even more interesting. Thank you so much for this compelling review: I feel the need to see this one for myself… 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I enjoyed it, similar to you with your Star Trek recently, it was what I needed to lift my reading, I like historical stories but don’t read them as often as I used to.
      Lynn 😀

  7. Carmen

    I enjoyed this one as well and I agree wholeheartedly with your review. I guessed most of the “mysteries” but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the novel. However, I did have a minor criticism–in order to establish how dull the task of sin eating was, the author became somewhat repetitive.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Carmen, how are you? Lovely to hear from you. I still miss your reviews.
      Yes, many, many similar sins with the same foods!
      Lynn 😀

      • Carmen

        I’m fine, Lynn. Just checking in once in a while. It’s lovely to pass by as well. Saw this one that I had read and left my two cents. 😛

      • @lynnsbooks

        Keep popping in – it’s always great to hear from you.
        Have you been watching anything good?
        Lynn 😀

      • Carmen

        I’ve watched a great deal of this year’s movies that have gone to streaming. Mulan and Rebecca were disappointing; The Rental was quite good, as were Shirley and First Cow, all three in your wheelhouse. I loved The Outpost, Project Power, Extraction, and Hamilton; the first three available on Netflix, and the latter on Disney+. There has been a good crop of movies this year. My Yearly List has about 34 rated 3.5* or higher out of 58 thus far.

      • @lynnsbooks

        Wow, lots to check out – thanks. I don’t think we’ve watched any of those. We’ve been watching various series but not as many films. Thanks for the recommendations.
        Lynn 😀

      • Carmen

        BTW, Did you read Mexican Gothic? I searched your reviews and didn’t find it there. I just finished it and was impressed. Now I want to read other novels by that author. I saw that you have read others of hers.

      • @lynnsbooks

        Hi Carmen. Yes, I read it a few months ago and loved it. My review is here: https://lynns-books.com/2020/06/30/mexican-gothic-by-silvia-moreno-garcia-mexicangothic-jofletcherbooks-silviamg/
        I’ve read a few of her books and enjoyed them all for different reasons.Certain Dark Things is probably my favourite.
        Lynn 😀

  8. waytoofantasy

    Oh this sounds fascinating. I used to love historicals, it’s been a while since I’ve read one that wasn’t mostly fantasy as well. I am adding this to my list!

    • @lynnsbooks

      This one really captured my attention – and given the way I’ve been this year, I’ll take it for what it is. I liked the main characters who is only a young girl and watching her come to terms with things was good, plus the sin eating was fascinating.
      Lynn 😀

  9. Looking Back at 2020 : The Ghost of Books Past | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Sin Eater by Megan Campisis – I like to include a few novels with a historic feel and the Sin Eater took me back to an alternate Tudor England where sin eaters are a very real, and shunned, part of society. […]

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