The Sin Eater

The Sin Eater


A Sin Eater’s duty is a necessary evil: she hears the final private confessions of the dying, eats their sins as a funeral rite, and guarantees their souls access to heaven.

It is always women who eat sins – a punishment, for it was Eve who first ate the Forbidden Fruit. Stained by the sins they are obliged to consume, the Sin Eater is shunned and silenced, doomed to live in exile at the edge of town.

Recently orphaned May Owens is just fourteen when she’s arrested for stealing a loaf of bread and sentenced to become a Sin Eater.

It’s a devastating sentence, but May’s new invisibility opens new doors. And when first one, then two, of the Queen’s courtiers suddenly grow ill, May hears their deathbed confessions – and begins to investigate a terrible rumour that is only whispered of amid palace corridors.

Our Review

I was first attracted to The Sin Eater because of the stunning cover and when I finished reading it, I was sad it had to end.

Fourteen-years old May Owens is caught stealing bread and sent to jail to await punishment. She is an orphan and has no one to speak up for her.  Other girls come and go but still her sentence isn’t announced. Then one day it is announced she will become a sin eater.

Sin Eaters eat the sins of others so they can die with a clear conscience. She will face the Maker with their sins and in doing so May can secure her own place with the Maker.

“The sin eater walks among us. Unseen. Unheard…Sins of our flesh become sins of hers through the Eating, praise be.”

Sin eaters are pariahs in society, forced to live on the edges of town and are considered to be the lowest of the low.

They are not allowed to talk, touch or be looked at by another person. Her tongue is branded, and she has to wear a heavy collar with an ‘S’ on it to denote her title.

She is only allowed to talk when she goes to do a ‘recitation’ and to list the foods their family must gather for the ‘Eating.’

Not being able to talk is a particularly hard thing for May as she is a “little gabby goose”. This benefits the reader because May’s inner dialogue is rich in detail.

“I’m a sin eater, I say to the red embers. What does this mean?

It means you’ll never again feel the press of a chest against yours in a hug.

It means you’ll never sit with Lee or Tom, giggling together, eating blackberries and watching the swallows dive…

You’ll never marry.

You’ll never bear a child.

You’ll never had a lover or even just a good friend.”

May has to go and live with the only other Sin eater in town and learns the trade through watching her.

They are called to the castle and stumble on a secret, a secret someone is killing to protect.

The Sin Eater was a book sumptuous in detail, in particular the descriptions of the various sins and their corresponding foods. The book begins with another sin eater about to perform an eating after May’s mother has died.

“Salt for pride. Mustard seeds for lies. Barley for curses. There are grapes too, laid red and bursting across the pinewood coffin – one grape split like a splinter through flesh. There’s crow’s meat stewed with plums and a homemade loaf, small and shaped like a bobbin. Why a loaf in such a shape? I think And why so small? There are other foods too, but not many. My mother had few sins.”

Aspects of the book, including the murders and some of the sins are amplified when you think that we are witnessing them through the eyes of a fourteen- year old girl.

It is set in a place called Angland during the rain of Queen Bethany, a figure who is described very much like Queen Elizabeth. Queen Bethany has divided the country on the issue of faith and has many who would like to see ‘The Virgin Queen’ fall. There are other historical figures who play a part in the book in some form. I liked this aspect of the book very much.

May Owens is a likeable character but also unique for being a strong female characters in an era where societal power was predominantly in the hands of men.

The Sin Eater was a mesmerising debut.

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Our Rating

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