BOOK CLUB: The Sin Eater

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[Total: 3 Average: 4.7]

By Megan Campisi
ISBN: 9781529019100
Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia

The novel “The Sin Eater” by Megan Campisi is a unique historical fiction creation. Rather unusual, perhaps even strange, it is highly imaginative with an endearing fairytale-like quality. 


Megan Campisi has based her 16th century Tudor England storyline on an ancient European death bed and funeral ritual called sin eating. Historically, it is believed that sin eaters were given a few coins to hear death bed confessions and as a symbolic gesture, they would absolve sins by eating bread or other specific foods over the coffin. The sin eater was a sin-bearer for life, carrying the sins of those who confessed so that they were freed for the journey into the afterlife.

They were social outcasts because, except in the context of the sin eating ritual, sin-eaters and could not be heard, seen, or touched. A sin-eater was burdened with hundreds of sins and was doomed to carry them into the afterlife. The last known evidence of such a person was 1906. 

This novel draws strongly on this folk ritual with its dark energy, injustices and devastating social isolation. The heroine, May, is only still a child when she is cursed with the fate of a sin eater. We watch her develop into maturity with a strength and confidence which imbue her choices in life. 

Megan Campisi has beautifully crafted a fascinating story with intrigues enveloped in emotion and sensitivity. Although a work of fiction this novel draws the reader into life of the middle ages with its poverty, superstitions and corruption. 

It is possible that on first appearance the chapter titles and the unusual language style might be startling. However, keep reading and you will find a treasure you were not expecting.

A selection of our members are reading The Sin Eater. You can read their reviews below or add your own!

8 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Sin Eater

  1. I was drawn to this book by the interesting topic that is unlike any books I have read about before. I like how the book is based on a true concept at least to some degree yet it has taken on the authors own shape. Sin-eating is an intriguing belief and the novel gives us insight into the inescapable circumstances one faces as a sin-eater.

    I felt sorry for young May when she became a sin-eater for a rather petty crime and is forced into a very difficult life. She never has to go hungry again but has to deal with being shunned and silent forever. May learns under the guidance of an older sin-eater but it is very difficult when they can not speak to each other, and the older sin eater is later imprisoned. She faces so many challenges yet none more so than when she commits to solve the mystery that caused the older sin-eater to be tortured to death. She sees and hears so much when performing her duties, but it’s very hard to take action when you aren’t allowed to speak and no one will even look at you.

    I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it if the topic is one that interests you. It was well written but there were some uncommon words I had to think twice about as I did not always know the meaning. It is the first book I have read by Megan Campisi and I was pleased.

  2. My goodness, this book was amazing from the time I opened the package that held it – the cover is intricate and the colours enticing.

    A Sin Eater is a person who literally eats certain foods to absolve a dying person of their sins. Different foods represent different sins committed by the dying person during their life. By eating the person’s “sins”, the Sin Eater takes on all the sins of the person, so that upon dying, the person is cleansed and will be accepted into heaven. Sin Eaters are not allowed to speak and are identified only by a letter “s” burned into their tongue and a heavy metal collar permanently hanging around their necks. They are called to attend houses where people are close to death.

    The story is set in England in around the 1500’s. Although the author is very clear that the story is pure fiction, it bore similarities to language, phrases, and events of that time. The imagery conjured up a scene so accurate I felt like I was watching it in a movie.

    The story is written in first person from the perspective of the main character, a young girl, May Owens. She is taken to court for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. Her “da” is dead and she lives alone. For her crime, she is made into a Sin Eater and apprenticed to the older, current Sin Eater in the town.

    This novel was so enticing that I read more than 60 pages on the first night after receiving it in the mail. But by page 240 it slowed down and became a bit tedious. Fortunately, the story picked up again by around page 273 and stayed buoyant until the end.

    Thank you, Ms Campisi, for authoring such a great book. And a big thank you to @beautyandlacebookclub for running such a great group and providing us with new releases to read and review. Also thank you to @panmacmillan for the opportunity to read this amazing novel.

    Luisa Sommer

  3. One of those books that take off with a roaring start then slows down and becomes tedious . The storyline is definetly intriguing and unique and it certainly has you keen to read . However it fell short for me towards the end . Character development was great , interesting setting and overall intriguing plot that does pick up towards end . I won’t go into the story premise enough has been said in previous reviews . If your after something different this is for you.

    Great cover love .

  4. The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi had me hooked from start to finish. I enjoyed the main character May Owens and found her to be a strong character that was a little eccentric, had a cheeky sense of humour but with a wonderful sense of justice.
    I was fascinated reading about the life of a sin eater and what foods must be eaten to absolve a person of their sins after death. The story was so well written that I was easily cast back to almost medieval times when the book is set. The language used was fantastic and I relished working out what different words meant. I loved the descriptions of the clothing, how vain the royals were to the point they knew they were poisoning themselves with their makeup but looks were more important, the strong beliefs and rituals that were never questioned and just the amazing types and array of foods they used to eat to even the entertainment that were a part of those times. How simple lives were but also so incredibly hard. I also thoroughly enjoyed the mystery that was always underlying everything May did and which kept me guessing until the end!
    I loved everything about this book from the storyline, the main character, the fabulous artwork on the cover to even the mysterious blurb on the back! 5 stars!
    Thank you Beauty and Lace and to Pan Macmillan for introducing me to Megan Campisi.

  5. The sin eater book by Megan Campisi is like nothing I have ever read before. I really enjoyed the story of May Owens and learning all about May and all what happened to her throughout her childhood and life. She was dealt a very harsh punishment and that she will carry with her for the rest of her life whether she likes it or not. She also gets caught up in feuds with the Royals not by choice and it does come at a great cost. This book was really good and I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it to others.
    Thank you to Beauty and Lace for the great read and Pan Macmillan for another amazing book.

  6. This is a fantastic, highly original novel!

    It’s paced so well, and the characters are very well developed. The author has done a great job of world building, it makes for such a fascinating story!

    I definitely recommend this one, it was a great read and I could not put it down.

  7. I enjoyed this dark and intriguing historical mystery! It had an interesting premise & main character and was beautifully written with fantastic imagery. Not necessarily a fast paced book, but The Sin Eater kept me engaged until the very end and I learned several things along the way.

    Thanks to Beauty and Lace & Pan Macmillan for providing a review copy

  8. I absolutely loved this book the subject is so different to what I would normally read but It sucked me in from the get go and the twist got me so good!!!!! I did not see it coming.

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