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.
A unique historical fantasy novel with a strong mystery element, Sin Eater was a little out of my comfort zone but wound up being a fascinating read.
Before opening this book, I had no idea that the practice of sin eating was ever actually a thing. But apparently, it was. A sin eater would perform a ritual involving listening to someone near death recite their sins and then eat certain foods to spiritually take on the deceased’s sins. This book uses this concept to create a unique setting in which the story unfolds. Set in 16th century England with a few tweaks, it is soaked in a gritty, raw atmosphere that makes for an immersive experience.
In this story, fourteen year old May has been caught stealing a loaf of bread and her punishment is to become a sin eater. Not long into her new role, she finds herself in the midst of a mystery that she feels compelled to solve. Although there is a mystery element, at its core, Sin Eater is a coming of age story. All her life, May has had different roles thrust upon her by others, but in these pages she discovers her own identity. As such, themes of self and identity are strong throughout. This also explores religion versus faith and differences in faith in different cultures in a thoroughly intriguing way.
I’m not sure I would ever re-read Sin Eater but am glad to have read it. In fact, the longer it sits in my mind after the fact, the more I appreciate it. I’d certainly be interested to see what the author comes out with next.
*Thanks to the publisher for providing an arc of this edition via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.