The Sin Eater – Megan Campisi [Books]

the sin eater

Genre: Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Pan Macmillian
Release Date: 23/07/2020

Rating: starstarstarstar

Throughout this book, I found myself flipping between three and four stars. This book is a solid 3.5, I think, but I don’t do half stars so it gets rounded up to four.

May Owens doesn’t really know her place in the world. But before she can discover it, she is forced into the life of a Sin Eater, a person who cannot speak, but who must listen to the sins of the dying, then eat food to represent those sins, thereby taking on the sins for themself and absolving the dying so they can go to heaven.

Firstly, I would definitely class this as Historical Fantasy. It’s very loosely based on the Elizabethan Era, and grounded in the Tudor Period, but it’s a world of its own, with different folklore, religion and monarchs. Elizabeth, for example, is Bethany. It’s also worth noting that if this were more ‘Historical’ there would not be Sin Eaters in the unnamed…town? City? – where May lives. The area seems to be sort of London, but maybe not quite, and leaning more towards Fantasy gives the author free rein for a lot of areas.

By the way – Sin Eaters, in reality, were very much a Welsh and border counties tradition, but Campisi takes a lot of liberties with the tale, weaving in intrigue at the castle, a Northern nobleman, and various outcasts May becomes sort of friends with.

I said above this book has different folklore and religions, but it’s easy to spot their ‘real world’ equivalents. Through the book, Campisi touches on the treatment of various ‘outcasts’, including those who are disfigured, poor, or not part of the main religion in Angland.

I both liked and disliked the ‘alternative’ aspect of this book. It added something different, but for the most part so many things were the same it was hard to see why it needed to be set in an alternative world, rather than taking the Tudor Period and slipping in the more different aspects. But at the same time, the more original aspects of world building were intriguing, and enjoyable to read.

I found May to be really endearing throughout, especially with the nicknames she gives to various people she doesn’t know. She’s kind hearted, but quickly pushes back when shoved, and seeing her embrace her role was a lot of fun. As she cannot speak to people, she speaks to the various objects around her, asking them questions and listening to their answers, carving out some sort of company for herself when she can’t really have meaningful relationships with others.

Her inability to speak also means people are extremely comfortable discussing things around her, though this in parts did confuse me, as she could speak if she wished, she just isn’t supposed to. And there are times in the book when it gets frustrating, when it’s hard not to think, Just say something. Still, for the majority of the book, her inner thoughts are strong enough to keep the reader hooked, and May comes up with some inventive ways to get her point across to others.

It took me a little long to really get into this, partly because the setting was a bit distracting – it felt like an odd choice, to make such a simple mirror, and I struggled to loose myself in the story when I was questioning why the author set it in an alternative world when it could have just been set in the actual historical period, considering the parallels are so obvious.

Some of the book does feel a touch simplistic, and the worldbuilding is a mix of what feels like laziness, alongside some other really strong elements. Still, it remained an interesting story with some absolutely beautiful moments and language, and if there were other books following May’s story, I’d definitely be interested in reading them.

 

 

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians – H.G. Parry [Books]

a declation on the rights

Genre: Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: June 23rd, 2020

Rating: starstarstarstarstar

As you can see above, I’m trying something a little bit new with the reviews on the blog. Please do let me know what you think about it.

Thank you to Orbit for providing an ebook version of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

William Pitt and William Wilberforce are old friends, drawn together by their careers and enjoying the last years of their youth. But a trip to France, shortly before Pitt becomes Prime Minister, sees them encountering something strange and deadly. Meanwhile, Robespierre discovers his own magical abilities, and uses them to light a spark to France’s revolution. In Jamaica, Fina’s body starts to rebel against the potion that keeps her and other slaves unable to do anything but obey the men who run the plantations.

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is a book which covers the growing abolitionist movement in Great Britain, the French Revolution, and the slave uprisings in the Caribbean, with the addition of magic. In this world, the aristocrats are able to essentially use magic freely, as long as their form of magic isn’t too dangerous. The commoners, however, are tested when born, and if they are found to have magic, The Knights Templar – who oversee the use of magic – attach a bracelet to them, which alerts them and injures the wearer if magic is used.

Many of the main characters are dedicated to trying to eradicate this system, seeing it as unfair and cruel, while Wilberforce is particularly troubled by the treatment of slaves. There are many historical names that crop up during the course of the story, and it’s clear the research done for this novel is solid. Parry makes it feel like this book could have been lifted from 18th century. The way magic presented is interesting, but the majority of the book, admittedly, is taken over by dialogue and politics.

This book is politics heavy. It’s something I really liked, but I can imagine would put other readers off. I liked the discussions between the characters, the talks over morality and freedom and responsibility. There were still some tense action scenes too, but most of the big action was sort of shifted off-screen slightly, with the POV characters only taking small roles and not witnessing much of the actual action.

I really enjoyed the verbal exchanges between various characters, which at times felt like reading a dance or sword-fight, as characters untangled their words and tried to plot their next steps.

My only (minor) complaint was that the novel finished really abruptly, but I was very relieved to find out this was the first in a duology.

In a lot of ways, the book reminded me of Johnathan Strange & Mr Norrell, another book I really loved, with the time period and the weaving in of magic with actual historical events. But in A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians, the scope is wider, the story more sprawling, and it covers more aspects than Susanna Clarke’s novel.

I’ll be eagerly awaiting the sequel to this novel, and if you like Historical Fantasy with a heavy dose of dialogue and politics, definitely pick this one up.