Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
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.
Every now and then I come across a book that is totally different from anything else I’ve ever read. This phenomenon is becoming rare, and that’s largely due to the fact that I’ve read a lot of books in my 35 years.
Megan Campisi’s Sin Eater is the first book to make that list in several years, and because of that, I know that this story will stay with me for a long time.
A lot of the media buzz surrounding this book’s release drew comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale, and I have to disagree. Yes, there are some similarities in the way that women are treated as little more than chattel at times, but this book is much easier to read than Atwood’s iconic story.
That’s not to say that this is in any way an easy book, or that it’s simple. Far from it. Campisi’s debut is both a brutal coming of age and an empowering tale of self-discovery. This is simply an easier book to read because, throughout it, I never gave up hope that it could end well for the main character, whereas in The Handmaid’s Tale my reading progress was dogged from page to page by heavy-hitting dread that everything would end very, very badly.
In this alternate Elizabethan history, Sin Eaters are women tasked with absorbing the sins of others, absolving them of their crimes before death and taking their sins unto themselves. They do this by eating a spread of food laid out over the coffins of the dead, each dish symbolizing one misdeed or another. For example, deer heart is for murder, and when one shows up on the coffin of a noblewoman without her having confessed to that crime, the mystery kicks off.
What follows is an engrossing, riveting story that was so addicting, I read it in a single sitting. One of the things that makes this book so compulsive is the tension in the story. There is very little downtime. It feels like the MC is running from one near-catastrophe to another, which leaves the reader desperate to keep flipping the pages.
Is the queen involved in the conspiracy? What about the man angling to be her lover? I had endless questions throughout, and I loved the way that Campisi dropped the MC into this new role as a Sin Eater and had her claw the mystery apart with such single-minded determination.
I highly recommend this for anyone wanting something different.