Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

SIN EATER is another one of those books that suffers from poor comparisons. Alice in Wonderland meets the Handmaid's Tale?! The Name of the Rose meets Wolf Hall?! I am seriously side-eying all of the authors of those blurbs right now because comparisons like that 1) fail to adequately describe what the book is about, 2) do it an injustice by shaping the book as something it is not, and 3) are just such bad comparisons that I literally cannot even.

SIN EATER is a fantasy novel-- not historical fiction. It takes place in an AU version of Elizabethan England that is somewhat similar but with all different names and customs. May is a young woman who is about to be sentenced for a crime, but when sentencing is meted out, she doesn't get the usual death or torture. No, instead she is sentenced to be a "sin eater," a person who eats the feasts left on the coffins of the dead, with each food representing a crime that person committed in life.

Sin Eaters are basically the dregs of humanity, on par with grotesques and lepers. As if their forced ostracism isn't enough, they're also forced to take a vow of silence that is nulled only when they are listing out the feasts of the sins and offering the dying absolution. May learns all of this at the knee of the older, more established Sin Eater: a woman who has been eating sins for so long that they have made her fat.

Everything changes when the Sin Eaters are called to the palace to eat the sins of a dying handmaid of the queen. At the feast, which is public, there is an item on the coffin that does not represent any of the sins the handmaid recounted. But who would have reason to lie about the sins of the dead? And why? The answers to this lead May down a rabbit hole of intrigue, lies, and deception amidst the royal court-- lies deep enough that people are willing to commit murder to ensure they stay hidden.

I do think the premise of the Sin Eater is a cool one. Other books have done this with mixed success (I'm thinking specifically of the YA fantasy novel, THE SIN EATER'S DAUGHTER). Setting the book in an AU fantasy version of England makes sense, I guess, although the world isn't developed nearly as much as it should be, and even though there are feminist themes hinted at in the book, none of these are really carried to fruition either, so to compare this book to THE HANDMAID'S TALE-- a richly imagined world filled with lengthy criticism on the way women are treated-- seems unfair.

If you read this book, try to read it outside of the framework of the blurbs. It's a dark fantasy novel that doesn't have magic; instead, it's got a caste system and a means of purging sin that uses impoverished and marginalized women as the vessels. Maybe it could have been handled with more finesse than it was, but the writing is good and the idea was interesting, and for a debut, this isn't bad.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

3.5 out of 5 stars

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