Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

Posted On 26 November 2020

Filed under Book Reviews

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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