Sin Eater: A Novel (Hardcover)

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This is the story of a young woman named May whose life is forever changed by a decision to steal a loaf of bread. While someone surely needs to do a research project on why terrible things happen to people who steal loaves of bread, that is not the point of this book so bear with me here. May is sentenced to life as a Sin Eater (again seems a bit much for bread) for her crimes and is thus forced into a life altering path of isolation.
While this book is decidedly not Tudor England, it does run parallel featuring a Virgin Queen whose older sister was nicknamed “bloody,” and  whose father had a notorious problem with his multiple wives dying. In this alternate reality, Sin Eaters are always women and a necessary part of daily life following the word of the Maker. At a person’s passing, a Sin Eater will come and hear the confessions of the dying and recite the corresponding foods to each of the individual’s sins. The Sin Eater then eats the foods thereby absolving the dying person of their moral baggage (or any responsibility for their terrible misdeeds, but who am I to judge) and takes it on themselves. If Sin Eaters live a pious life, following the rules of the Maker and eating all of the "pennance" foods, the Maker will forgive the weight of their sins as well as those they’ve eaten. If they are not pious, they will not be forgiven and all of that added sin will count heavily against them in the afterlife. Sin Eaters are the unseen and unheard, no one will talk with one, touch one, care for or love one. They are a curse on society until the day they are needed.
May does not go quietly into this life, despite the frustrations of others. She fumbles, makes mistakes, often lacks good judgment, and longs for companionship. Her saving grace is the other town Sin Eater who does not speak to her, but shows her some kindness and teaches her what her life is now destined for.
The plot takes off with a call for a recitation for one of the Queen’s closest companions, both Sin Eaters hear the recitation and call for the foods but when it is time for the eating, atop the woman’s coffin is an unrecited  food, the heart of a stag, the food for the murder of a royal. If they eat this heart it will be confirmation to the crowd of witnesses that the dying woman murdered a royal, if they don’t eat it, it will be a sign of treason that is punishable by death, if they try to tell someone of their dilemma no one will listen and they will be drowned out by prayer. The older Sin Eater refuses to eat the heart and is taken away by palace guards. Knowing the penalty for treason, May decides to eat the heart, but is then haunted by the implications. As the mystery gets deeper and more involved, there is clearly some sort of conspiracy and danger lurking in the Queen’s castle, but May is uncertain on how to bring it to light while she is unseen and unheard.
If you like historical fiction and mystery you will love this book. Full of intrigue, suspense, and fascinating detail this book was wonderful and so refreshing. Check out this link for information on the history of real-life Sin Eaters.

— From Chelsea

April 2020 Indie Next List

“Oh my. Megan Campisi’s Sin Eater completely took me by surprise. It is a wholly unique combination of fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. Filled with intriguing characters and vivid imagery, this inventive tale will immerse readers in the deceit and intrigue of the royal court. Campisi’s narrator is what really sets this novel apart — the sin eater, a woman called to hear the sins of the dying and consume the foods that represent them. A dark, thrilling read!”
— Anderson McKean, Page and Palette, Fairhope, AL


“A riveting depiction of hard-won female empowerment that weaves together meticulous research, unsolved murder—and an unforgettable young heroine.” —The Washington Post

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 keenly researched feminist arc of unexpected abundance, reckoning, intellect, and ferocious survival” (Maria Dahvana Headley, author of The Mere Wife) Sin Eater is “a dark, rich story replete with humor, unforgettable characters, and arcane mysteries. It casts a spell on your heart and mind until the final page” (Jennie Melamed, author of Gather the Daughters).

About the Author

Megan Campisi is a playwright, novelist, and teacher. Her plays have been performed in China, France, and the United States. She attended Yale University and L’École International de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq. The author of Sin Eater, she lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.

Praise For…

One of the Most Anticipated Books of 2020.  Lit Hub

"A riveting description of hardwon female empowerment that weaves together meticulous research, unsolved murder--and an unforgettable heroine.  Exhilarating...great storytelling...reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale or Russell Hoban's great sui-generis sci-fi novel Riddley Walker."
— The Washington Post

Sin Eater is a dark and thrilling page turner that turns a dystopian eye on the past in an unnervingly contemporary way. All hail Megan Campisi and her smashing novel.” 
— Emma Donoghue, New York Times bestselling author of Room and Akin

"An in-depth, lyrical exploration of the forced reinvention of a teenage girl, ripped from her normal existence into a life of shifting public sins into feminine flesh, literally. Sin Eater is a thrilling surprise - Megan Campisi uses the history of  patriarchal injustice to create a keenly researched feminist arc of unexpected abundance, reckoning, intellect, and ferocious survival."
— Maria Dahvana Headley, New York Times bestselling author of The Mere Wife

"The Name of the Rose meets Wolf Hall in this brilliant, bewitching novel. Megan Campisi conjures a deliciously warped version of sixteenth-century Britain: Tudor England in a funhouse mirror. Her heroine, a young girl cruelly rendered pariah, is ingeniously sketched and achingly real. Ms. Campisi has created a dark, rich story replete with humor, unforgettable characters, and arcane mysteries. It casts a spell on your heart and mind until the final page." 
— Jennie Melamed, author of Gather the Daughters

“Rich with imaginative and historical details, Sin Eater is part mystery, part horror, and—ultimately—a timeless story of one woman regaining her power. I loved this from beginning to end.” 
— Christina Dalcher, author of Vox

"A dark, propulsive novel that twists your stomach in all the right ways.” 
— Lit Hub

Sin Eater is a fully fleshed work of speculative fiction, abundant with the fine details of Elizabethan life and, of course, food. May is a damaged and sympathetic heroine, at once intelligent and innocent. This is an opulently imagined debut, horrific and weirdly beautiful, filled with earnest feeling as well as cruelty. Set aside time to read this engrossing novel in one go.”
— Shelf Awareness

"The atmospheric, historical fantasy setting combined with May’s jarringly eccentric personality creates a novel as strange as it is captivating.”
— BuzzFeed

"Dark and evocative."
— Pop Sugar

"A Tudor banquet of a novel...its center the desiring, devouring, life-giving, murdering, and dying female body."
— Historical Novels Review

“An original novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat.”
— BookReporter

Sin Eater by Megan Campisi: A dystopian story about a girl in 16th century England that is sentenced to work as a 'Sin Eater, people who cannot be touched or spoken to and whose job is to hear the final confessions of the dying while eating foods symbolizing their sins so their souls can be admitted to heaven.' Think a cross between Margaret Atwood and Umberto Eco with this one, and it is a phenomenal read.”
— Palm Beach Post

“Magnificent...complex, vivid... This vision of Renaissance outsiders is exactly what historical fiction lovers have unknowingly craved.”
— New York Journal of Books

“[A] rousing, impressive debut… Campisi’s stirring portrait of injustice is deepened by May’s cleverness, frustration, and grief. This spellbinding novel is a treat for fans of feminist speculative fiction.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Very much reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale. In this way, it transcends its historical roots to give us a modern heroine. Richly imaginative and strikingly contemporary.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“Campisi shapes a tale of folk customs, dark superstitions, and feminine power… Recommend this debut, an original melding of mystery and alternate history, to admirers of Karen Maitland’s folklore-infused medieval thrillers and Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River.”
— Booklist

"Simply riveting."
— Midwest Book Review

"Sin Eater turns shame into a superpower."
— Bitch Media

Product Details
ISBN: 9781982124106
ISBN-10: 1982124105
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: April 7th, 2020
Pages: 304
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