Title: Sin Eater
Author: Megan Campisi
Publication Information: Atria Books. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN: 1982124105 / 978-1982124106
Book Source: I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.
Opening Sentence: "Salt for pride."
Favorite Quote: "There's a certain comfort in rules. You know if you're good or if you're bad. And even if you're bad, you know where you fit. You belong. But I don't want other folks' rules to say if I belong anymore. I want to say for myself."
"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."
The history of sin eaters can be found in different cultures around the world, in particular amongst the Welsh counties in England. Some historians have gone as far as to say that the concept is embedded in Christian culture as Jesus Christ offered his own life for the Sins of humanity. However, I am here to talk about a story not discuss religious beliefs.
The concept of a sin eater in Welsh culture was that of a woman who ate certain ritual foods upon the funeral of an individual. Each sin was represented by a specific food. The foods found upon a coffin revealed secrets that individual may have held during life. The actual sin eater was a pariah and shunned by society although she was the first to be called upon an impending death for a recitation of sins and then upon the death for the ritual eating.
This book centers on fourteen year old Meg, who receives the sentence of being a sin eater for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. (Les Miserables is brought to mind by that crime!) The plot entangles Meg into royal intrigue with influential people conniving and plotting for political gain.
The book makes a myriad of comments on sins and sinners which provides food for thought:
- "It's always women who eat sins, since it was Eve who first ate a sin: the Forbidden Fruit."
- "I understand why sin eaters were made. Carrying such feelings is too much for one little heart, too much for one body. There must be some hope of shedding regret, grief, sorrow, sloughing them off like a skin and going into death free and light. Else we'd never be able to live."
- "With how you came into the world and what you've seen lately you should know, the more you live, the more the sinner and the saint can't be pulled apart. All of us just getting by."
- "Don't I know by now that folks see their sins in the way they choose? There's always a reason as to why selfishness is not really selfish and crimes are honest and waiting safely by while somefolk else is killed is really the more courageous choice. I've always had an answer for why I'm a godly girl despite my sins."
The mystery of what is happening in the royal household keeps the book moving at a fast pace. The conclusion, when it comes, seems logical. What the conclusion turns out to be is not a surprise. The surprise is the who.
What makes this story and keeps me turning pages until the end is the character of May herself - a fourteen year old who is on her own relegated to a fate out of her control. Yet, she manages with courage and resilience, and that makes for an engaging fictional heroine. In the midst of the sadness that surrounds her, she manages to also find a family in her own way. The concept and the fact of this oddity of history is the most fascinating aspect of the book. As Atlas Obscura calls it, being a sin eater was "the worst freelance gig in history."