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, and thereby shoulder their transgressions. 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.
... magnificent ... 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 ... Campisi’s May is a phenomenal protagonist ... The affairs of that court are legendary, but stripped of the authority of history, they are revealed as impenetrable and deeply frightening ... This vision of Renaissance outsiders is exactly what historical fiction lovers have unknowingly craved. Sin Eater is Campisi’s first novel (she has had plays produced, but none have yet been published), and the only disappointment it offers is the absence of a massive body of work waiting for the reader to devour when this first book ends.
Soon I became engrossed in this sumptuous Tudor banquet of a novel, savouring its charming, fairytale-like language and complex narrative. I have always been greedy for delicious writing and here it was, served up to me in generous helpings ... In addition to being enraptured with the sin eater, I fell in love with Campisi’s heroine. May is a wonderful character. Intelligent and embattled, she learns early how cruel a woman’s existence is, and we are invited inside her heart and mind in order to witness how she devises a way to transform herself from child-victim into mistress of her destiny ... a very physical novel, its centre the desiring, devouring, life-giving, murdering, and dying female body. I delighted in the woman’s viewpoint, as well as in the novel’s rich language.
... 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.