The Handmaid’s Tale meets Alice in Wonderland in this gripping and imaginative historical novel about a shunned orphan girl in 16th century England who is ensnared in a deadly royal plot and must turn her subjugation into her power.
The Sin Eater walks among us, unseen, unheard
Sins of our flesh become sins of Hers
Following Her to the grave, unseen, unheard
The Sin Eater Walks Among Us.
For the crime of stealing bread, fourteen-year-old May receives a life sentence: she must become a Sin Eater—a shunned woman, brutally marked, whose fate is to hear the final confessions of the dying, eat ritual foods symbolizing their sins as a funeral rite, and thereby shoulder their transgressions to grant their souls access to heaven.
Orphaned and friendless, apprenticed to an older Sin Eater who cannot speak to her, May must make her way in a dangerous and cruel world she barely understands. When a deer heart appears on the coffin of a royal governess who did not confess to the dreadful sin it represents, the older Sin Eater refuses to eat it. She is taken to prison, tortured, and killed. To avenge her death, May must find out who placed the deer heart on the coffin and why.
“Sins of our flesh become sins of hers through the Eating, praise be.”
I would categorize the Sin Eater as dystopian / historical fiction with some thriller / mystery elements. We follow the story of May Owens, who is punished for stealing a loaf of bread by serving as a sin eater. A sin eater is basically someone who hears your sins/confessions when you are dying (a process called the Recitation) and then determines which food to eat during your funeral (another process called the Eating). Different food symbolizes different sins. For example, dried raisins represent adultery, mustard seeds represent lies. These food will be placed on the coffin for the sin eater to eat. By doing so, it is believed that the sins of the dead will be transferred to the sin eater and the dead may pass on in peace.
This story is set in the era of Elizabeth I and certain characters in this book mirror certain historical characters (for example, Queen Bethany is Queen Elizabeth, Titus Seymaur is Thomas Seymour, Katryna Parr is Catherine Parr). The world building here is amazing as Campisi managed to create the “16th century Elizabethan England” feel in this book by using old English words and sentence structure (though I have to admit that I needed some time to get used to such writing style). The huge gap in social class during this era is also glaringly highlighted in this book. Not to mention that the politicking in the royal court, and the mysterious aura surrounding the incidents of certain murders, definitely elevates this book to a different level.
But for the Sin Eater, I wouldn’t know the story of Queen Elizabeth I and her stepfather Thomas Seymour. I googled it after reading this book and I’m so intrigued by this plot line! As a historical fiction, the Sin Eater managed to effectively impart the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and her family or relatives to the readers.
I definitely love this book and I think that this is a decent debut by Megan Campisi. It is creative, unique, original and interesting! The Sin Eater truly deserves a strong 8/10 star rating. If you are up for a mixture of dystopian and historical fiction, the Sin Eater is the best choice for you!