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.
HERE ARE MY THOUGHTS AND REVIEW
Set in England in the sixteenth-century social care and a welfare system are hundreds of years away. So when orphaned May is hungry, when hungry really meant that she hadn’t eaten anything at all, not just peckish, she stole a loaf of bread. Fourteen-year-old May was captured by the baker’s son and put into prison with about 20 other girls, who had committed various crimes, waiting for their fate from the court.
When you know how harsh these sentences are for such crimes it really makes you realise how desperate these young girls are. Some head for the gallows while everyone else is sentenced except May. May is summoned and told that she is to become a sin eater. Sin eaters are the bottom of the pecking pile, shunned and looked down on as vile creatures but everyone needs a sin eater when they were on their death beds. Each of their sins was represented by different foods and as the dying person confessed their sins the foods were left for the sin eater to eat them away. At the front of the book, you can read what sin different foods represented. It is fascinating.
May was marked so that everyone would know what she was. One thing was for sure, she would never be hungry again. She was sent to live with another sin eater to learn the trade. Everyone from the poor to the highest needed to confess their sins. In high places, there were literally secrets to die for.
It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel. The historical detail of the era is spot on, the attitudes and cruelty of the time shocking. There were punishments that were horrific, lack of care for children sickening and superstitions that people feared. It made for a dark read most of the time but I loved how the story twisted. The second half of the book went from fascinating to jaw-dropping. I loved the historical figures that were in the story and the consequences.
This really is a must-read. Brilliant new author, can’t wait to see what else she brings out.
I wish to thank NetGalley and the publisher for an e-copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly.
HERE, IS A LITTLE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Megan Campisi is a playwright and novelist. She has previously received the French Alfa and ADAMI prizes for her plays, which have been performed in France, China and the United States. In 2019 she received a Fulbright Specialist Award to give master classes at Tatbikat Theatre in Turkey. She holds a BA from Yale and a Diplôme (MFA) from L’Ecole de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. She lives in Brooklyn with her family. The Sin Eater is her first novel.