This alternative historical fiction novel centered on a "sin eater" in a version of Elizabethan England was dark, lyrical, and unforgettable.
Sense of place:
Sin Eater comes out on April 7, 2020!
May Owens is caught stealing a piece of bread in the streets of an alternative version of London. It's the time of the Virgin Queen. Taken to be sentenced, May is shocked to receive a one-of-a-kind punishment: she's been declared a sin eater.
A sin eater is always a woman. She's branded by a collar displaying an "S," and branded with a black ink "S" on her tongue. She's not allowed to speak, she's not allowed to be touched, she's not allowed to be looked at, and her entire life is plagued by the limitations of her new position—she "eats" the sins of the dying.
As you can tell, the job isn't great.
May's life as a sin eater in this alternative London was fascinating, heartbreaking, and poignantly human. This is a lingering read. I really disagree with the comparisons claiming this tale is like The Handmaid's Tale and Alice in Wonderland—neither of those comparisons resonated with me and they really miss the connections to historical England and the lyricism of this novel. This is about the grimy underbelly of London, the seedy witchcraft of a prescience era, and the life of a pariah among and separate from the people.
Also, there are no fantastical elements to this novel whatsoever, so fantasy fans take note. I still loved it, but would not call it a fantasy even in the loosest sense.
Thank you so much to Atria Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it’d be, but honestly that was on me and not on this book.
Quick take: Two women are trying to make their mark on the film industry of the 1950s during the Communist scare and the Hollywood blacklists that ensued as a result of the Red Menace.
Phoebe Adler is in New York, scratching out a living as a screenwriter for a mid-level detective TV show. Her shows have her name on the credits, but it's hard being a self-made woman after WWII, when the men have returned from the war and want their jobs back. Phoebe doesn't mind much, except for getting her name out there and making sure she's making enough money for her sister, Mona, who depends on her. When the Red Menace comes knocking and Phoebe's world turns on its head, London may just be her saving grace.
Hannah Wolfson is an expatriate living in London. She's managed to create a production company and successfully be an executive producer in a male-dominated world—and her husband and kids support her. But when blacklisted writers and talent arrive in the UK and Hannah decides to risk it all and hire them, odds are something just might fall through the new cracks.
This was such an immersive reading experience. Red Letter Days made me feel like I was in the 1950s, down to the prevalent mannerisms and details. It was harder for me to read the sexism—also a necessary element—because that's something I dislike in my escapist fiction, but I thought the author did a fantastic job of conveying female agency amid those issues.
However, in general I struggled with the density of the descriptions and lack of driving pacing. Due to the fact that this novel is much more exploratory and reliant on slice-of-life, this was definitely a "me" problem. The author did a fantastic job of portraying the real life struggles of these women in real time. I think I just wanted more pizzazz, more intrigue—coming from a predominantly fantasy and mystery/thriller reader, hopefully that further explains my lackluster rating.
If you are a fan of historical fiction and/or old-school Hollywood a la The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, give this a go! The atmosphere is fantastic.
Thank you to Berkley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.