All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

on April 27, 2020

The Sin Eater
Megan Campisi
Pan Macmillan AUS
2020, 381p
Ebook borrowed via Borrow Box/my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Can you uncover the truth when you’re forbidden from speaking it?

A Sin Eater’s duty is a necessary evil: she hears the final private confessions of the dying, eats their sins as a funeral rite, and so guarantees their souls access to heaven. It is always women who eat sins – since it was Eve who first ate the Forbidden Fruit – and every town has at least one, not that they are publicly acknowledged. Stained by the sins they are obliged to consume, the Sin Eater is shunned and silenced, doomed to live in exile at the edge of town.

Recently orphaned May Owens is just fourteen, and has never considered what it might be like to be so ostracized; she’s more concerned with where her next meal is coming from. When she’s arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, however, and subsequently sentenced to become a Sin Eater, finding food is suddenly the last of her worries.

It’s a devastating sentence, but May’s new invisibility opens new doors. And when first one then two of the Queen’s courtiers suddenly grow ill, May hears their deathbed confessions – and begins to investigate a terrible rumour that is only whispered of amid palace corridors.

Set in a thinly disguised sixteenth-century England, The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is a wonderfully imaginative and gripping story of treason and treachery; of secrets and silence; of women, of power – and, ultimately, of the strange freedom that comes from being an outcast with no hope of redemption for, as May learns, being a nobody sometimes counts for everything . . .

So recently I finally got around to downloading a couple of the apps my local library uses as a way to loan out both eBooks and eAudiobooks. I’d been meaning for a while, probably since the library closed but I’d had quite a lot of books to read so I hadn’t bothered. I had been looking for a particular book though and not been able to find access to it on either Amazon or iBooks etc so I thought it’d be worth a look checking out the loaner apps. Unfortunately I didn’t find that book but during browsing, I found a lot of other books I’d be interested in reading.

I borrowed this one purely on the strength of the cover alone. It’s absolutely stunning and immediately made me want to read it. And the premise is really interesting too. Apparently sin eaters were a thing – they would consume a ritual meal in order to like……take on the sins of a recently deceased person so that they might be absolved of them and still go to Heaven. I’d never heard of it before but it sounded fascinating.

May is an orphan when she steals a loaf of bread and is ‘sentenced’ to being a sin eater. They are marked with an S on their tongue and fitted with a steel collar that cannot be removed. They cannot speak unless they are hearing a confession of sin or informing someone what food to provide in order to eat the sins. May finds another sin eater and must learn quickly how to fill her new role, especially when the sin eater sees a food matching a sin she didn’t hear a confession of and refuses to eat it. That elevates May to the main role of sin eater and she stumbles on a strange and deadly mystery at the royal castle.

I’m not super good with my ‘years royal people did things’ but there’s a bit of a chart at the front of this book that indicates a previously ruling monarch had six wives, some of whom he beheaded. He also changed the religion, then it was changed back, then it was changed again, depending on who was on the throne so it’s obviously around the time of Henry VIII and those that came after him although the names are a bit different.

In this world, the sin eater is always a woman (punishment for committing the first sin) and it’s delivered as a punishment. They are ostracised from society – no one will even look at them and they direct any necessary conversation (such as where they need to go for a recitation of the sins or an eating) somewhere near them but not directly at them. Even the older sin eater will not speak to May so she has to learn which foods equal which sins by watching and learning and trying to muddle everything out herself. I found learning the different foods really interesting – and also slightly nausea inducing as these things all had to be consumed in one sitting after a person has passed away. Things like different types of cream could be sitting beside the heart of an animal or a lambs head. Seemingly the more vile the sin, the more vile the food.

The world is richly detailed and May well rendered despite the fact that for a large portion of the book she can’t really talk and few people will speak directly to her. There are a few exceptions – a foreigner who didn’t know or understand the role the first time he sees her, a vagrant or leper type person. A lot of the book revolves around May’s desire to know what a deer heart means, as it’s the food that appears on the coffin that the older sin eater won’t eat, because that sin wasn’t confessed. Although the older sin eater possessed a book that detailed what should be eaten for which sin, May doesn’t know how to read so she has to try and find someone to help her puzzle out exactly what is going on at the castle and why people are seemingly being poisoned and then foods for sins they did not confess to are appearing at the eating. Who knows about it and how are they making sure the food appears?

This was interesting but also strangely lacking in some ways. There are people and characters that seem to go nowhere or have no real discernible purpose and others that appear for a specific thing in a way that doesn’t particularly feel realistic. It got a bit bogged down at a certain point, where it felt like May was treading water and trying not to be murdered, but yet kept going back to the place where someone clearly wanted to murder her. They gave her little reason to really want to solve this mystery, other than the fate of the older sin eater but I’m not sure the rapport or solidarity was really built. Poor May is all alone and clearly looks for anything remotely resembling acceptance and affection and I guess the meagre amounts she received from the older sin eater was enough, which honestly, is incredibly sad. And I felt quite dissatisfied with the ending unfortunately.


Book #80 of 2020




2 responses to “Review: The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

  1. Marg says:

    Okay so I can’t figure out how to read a library book on the Kindle. I have something that I want to read so I will figure it out…eventually.

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