Atonement for one’s sins comes not by way of a priest’s blessings or forgiveness, but by the eating of specific foods. A Sin Eater leads an unusual life – when one is on his or her deathbed, the Sin Eater is summoned so that the dying might confess their sins and the Sin Eater puts together a list of foods so that the Sin Eater (and the family?) might eat away the sins so that the dying person can go to meet the Maker free of the burden of sins. For those who pass on before they can confess their sins, a general meal is prepared. But other than this one moment in a person’s life, a Sin Eater is shunned and avoided. Touching a Sin Eater is bad luck. And except for the Sin Eater’s prayer and requesting first a confession and then call for the foods, a Sin Eater does not speak.
Fourteen year old May, living in 16th Century England, is arrested for stealing some bread. She sits in prison for many weeks, having already seen the judge, and she watches others come and receive their punishments while she lingers behind bars. Finally her punishment is pronounced. She is to become a Sin Eater. Not knowing anything about how to become a Sin Eater, she goes to the home of a Sin Eater, shows the “S” brand on her collar marking her, and becomes an apprentice to an old, slovenly woman.
The pair are summoned to the Royal Court where they hear the confession of the former governess to the Virgin Queen and the older Sin Eater refuses to eat one of the confession foods and May is embroiled in a mystery of lies and murder within the Royal Court. But what can a Sin Eater, not allowed to speak, do about it?
I was not aware of the concept of sin-eating, but I realize now that this is an actual, historical concept. So at first I was thinking ‘what a great concept for a story’ but realized later that it was a great find for a story concept.
But the first third or so of this book was about this concept. Identifying our protagonist and being a sin-eater. The plot to the story doesn’t show up until nearly half way through and by that time we think the story is about being a Sin Eater. It is not. It is about being privy to a dangerous secret at the highest level of society and how the lowest level in society can fight to avenge a wrong.
Author Megan Campisi’s writing is luscious and the book is easy to fall into. Only two characters stand out – May, and the old Sin Eater – but there really aren’t many others that get much page time.
The first half of the book was interesting and I looked forward to reading it. But the second half grew boring for me. That’s the second half with the actual plot. I enjoyed reading this … moderately well, but I would define this as a ‘must read.’
Looking for a good book? Sin Eater, by Megan Campisi, is a historical fiction mystery that is worth reading for the beautiful writing, but the story slows it down.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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author: Megan Campisi
publisher: Atria Books
hardcover, 304 pages