This is a fantasy novel inspired by the historical practice of eating bread beside a person’s coffin to absolve their sins. The author has used this to create a fantasy world, which is elaborated to include specific foods for specific sins, located in a fictional country called Angland, sharing many characteristics with Elizabethan England. Young May Owens is arrested for stealing, and her punishment is to become a sin-eater. When the Queen’s courtiers call for her services, she overhears court gossip that alludes to a terrible crime.
“Don’t I know by now that folk 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.”
“Do you ever think we’re living the wrong life? Like if we could choose for ourselves, we’d choose better than the one we’ve got? […] But there’s not use in wishing is there?”
“We can make little choices. Like how we go about the day. And who we want to be like.”
“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 setting and characters are depicted realistically, but I felt very confused about the mystery surrounding the conspiracies of the Royal family. I was disappointed about a few loose ends. Overall, this is an entertaining read for its originality.
Kirkus: “Richly imaginative and strikingly contemporary.”
Publishers Weekly: This spellbinding novel is a treat for fans of feminist speculative fiction.
New York Journal of Books: Campisi evokes a complex, vivid, barely alternate Elizabethan England. At some moments, history is in harmony with the novel; at other points, they depart one another’s company. Illiterate and alone as May is, it’s not entirely clear whether this is genuinely a different world from ours, or whether May’s take on the Reformation, on her queen, and on her society is simply a little warped. She can’t read, and she’s never been out of her tiny town. How much of the world could such a girl legitimately understand?