It was the cover that did it for me with this one – isn’t it sumptuous? I’ve also recently been enjoying my SFF with a serving of history in some form. So I requested this one and was delighted when I received the arc.
BLURB: 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.
REVIEW: It took me a while to really get into this one, chiefly because I was slightly irritated at the sheer thinness of the disguise regarding the world. The names of the kings and queens were very nearly taken from the Tudor dynasty and the religious turmoil was depicted, but with different names. The Old King even had six wives… I found it distracting and a tad annoying that this fantasy version followed the actual world so very closely – but the town where May lives didn’t feel large or sufficiently varied to be the London of Elizabeth I. The court didn’t feel right, either.
However, as I continued reading and became more emotionally invested in May and engrossed in the story, I ceased minding so much. I have, however, knocked a point off because it initially did affect my pleasure and the speed with which I became invested in the story. That said, once I got over my issues with the scene setting, I really cared about May and really enjoyed her progression through the story. She starts out as a half-starved waif, still reeling from the death of her father, and then finds herself in a terrible situation – that of a Sin Eater. I was aware of the custom, but Campisi makes it far more widespread than it actually was, by also having specific foodstuffs representing particular sins, which is something May has to learn. I also enjoyed how Campisi tweaked several old nursery rhymes to allude to rite of sin-eating.
The distressing aspect of becoming a Sin Eater is how ostracised May becomes. No one will look at her, speak to hear or touch her. She is treated as a leper. Campisi deals well with May’s shock and sense of loss very well, and as we see her start to become acclimatised to her new status, I also appreciated her innate gutsy outlook and instinct for survival. However, despite being a social outcast, the Sin Eater also has access to the best houses in the land, once someone is dying or has died. And May discovers this is a very mixed blessing when that access means she becomes inadvertently caught up in a high-level plot.
Throughout the book, she is constantly trying to work out whether she is a pious, upstanding young woman her father would be proud of – or essentially wicked like her mother’s family. How should she cope with the temptations that come her way? I really appreciated that Campisi gave May the opportunity to tussle over these questions – because it is exactly what would have occupied a girl in the 16th century, who would have been very concerned about the state of her soul and whether she would suffer the agonies of everlasting fire, or at last find her way to heaven.
In amongst the steady growth of May’s confidence in her way of life, there is also that plot concerning the Queen’s attendants. I did know of the stories that this alludes to, though I think it was well handled and provided a climactic and suitably dramatic ending to what proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. While I obtained an arc of The Sin Eater from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.