02 April 2020

Review: The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is an historical fiction meets dystopian fantasy whodunnit crime mash-up that straddles multiple genres.

Readers of historical fiction - or history - will immediately recognise the English setting during the 1500s, along with the slightly veiled references to Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII and other historical figures despite their altered names. This combination of historical fiction and fantasy made it hard for me to know what was based on historical fact and what was pure fiction so I decided early on to 'let this go' and just enjoy the story.

What I did know for certain was that sin eaters were real. In fact, the author tells us at the beginning of the book that sin eaters existed in parts of Britain until roughly a century ago.

Our protagonist May Owens is a starving 14 year old orphan in gaol for stealing a loaf of bread. Fearing the worst, May is caught by surprise as she is sentenced to become a sin eater.

The duty of a sin eater is to attend the dying and hear a recitation of their sins. A food is then assigned to each sin and upon the person's death, the sin eater will attend a service to effectively 'eat their sins' thereby allowing the soul of the deceased to ascend to heaven. If a person dies without confessing their sins, then default sins are chosen on their behalf.

The process of absolving the dead and dying and taking on their sins means May is shunned by the very community that depends on her for absolution. The sin eater may only speak while carrying out her duties and must wear a collar with an 'S' so everyone may recognise her, reminding me of The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The opportunity to explore the life of a sin eater in fiction was irresistible and I was rewarded with an unexpected murder mystery. I enjoyed the list of sins and their corresponding foods at the beginning and admired May's determination to put the knowledge gathered at the bedsides of the dead and dying towards uncovering the truth.

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is definitely a genre mash-up but it was also a thoroughly entertaining read. Recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. Ah... hm... sounds a bit TOO mashed up for me. But thanks for the review!

  2. I’m intrigued by the premise, and your review is encouraging so adding it to my wishlist.

  3. Really looking forward to this one even more now after reading your review!

  4. It sounds great and I love the cover. It's going on my wishlist.

    1. Brilliant, thanks so much Margaret, hope you enjoy it :-)


Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!