Review | Sin Eater – Mike Shel

About the Book

“I SHALL BAPTIZE YOU, SIR, AND MY BAPTISM WILL BURN YOUR FOLLY AND FLESH AWAY!”

A year has passed since Auric Manteo descended into the haunted depths of a Djao ruin to return a lethal artifact, only to face down a bloodthirsty, imprisoned god. Now his daughter Agnes comes to bring him back to the capital with promises of hidden secrets finally revealed.

But the city decays, poisonous disorder is rife, and whispered prophecy foretells of cataclysm and doom. Summoned by their no-longer human queen, Auric and Agnes are commanded to carry out an impossible task, one that can be accomplished only with the mysterious blade Szaa’da’shaela, gifted to Auric on a lunatic’s whim. 

Can Auric and his daughter survive a journey fraught with blood, menace, and madness? And can they pay the price demanded by a being every bit as evil as the Aching God?

574 pages 
Published on May 20, 2019
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Aching God was a book that blew me away. I almost immediately moved on to Sin Eater because how could I not? Aching God left me, well, aching. I ended up devouring Sin Eater. I enjoyed this book in a way I haven’t enjoyed a book in a while. Shel can tell a story in a way that just gets under my skin.

The culminating events in Aching God were rough, and one thing I wanted to see was how Shel handled the fallout of such a conflict. One of my big bugaboos in fantasy is this odd proclivity protagonists have to undergo these massive confrontations and then bounce back from them (mentally, emotionally, and physically) as though almost nothing happened. I had a feeling Shel wouldn’t do that, though. He seems like an author who relishes the reality of his characters’ conditions too much to allow them to simply move past something as weighty as what Auric has had to undergo.

The Auric in Sin Eater is a different character than the one you were introduced to in Aching God. He’s aged, and stooped, wizened almost, as though the confrontation took something away from him he will never get back. His daughter, Agnes, worries over his mental and physical health. Auric has been indelibly marked by what he underwent in the first book in the series, and it’s not easily gotten over or moved past. It has left him changed and honestly, I loved that about him. The raw, realness of his condition was both sad, but it also really delighted me. Here, we have a character who has suffered, who is suffering, and who will continue to suffer. He has to fight to return to some semblance of himself. It’s not the suffering I like, rather Shel’s unflinching desire to show the ramifications of large events on a personal, powerful level.

Does this mean Auric is a dull character? Not in the least. In fact, he only seemed to gain interest for me in Sin Eater. He’s complex, and maybe a bit darker than he felt in Aching God. If anything, his changes just made him feel that much more real.

Agnes also gets a perspective in this book, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about her. Agnes has had a complicated life, and now that she has survived, she has grown into herself. She is, perhaps, harder because of what she had underwent (who wouldn’t be?) but no less fascinating for all her callouses. There is also another, more mysterious, perspective that enters the fray. I was a bit worried how Shel would transition from one perspective to multiple in the second book, but he did a great job with it. I think this might be a bit of the book’s strength, because having numerous perspectives gave me a different, more well-rounded view of the world and the events that transpire in it.

Soon, Agnes and Auric are called away and thrust into another question and Shel gets to display his writing prowess again. There are very few authors who can match the worldbuilding mastery of Mike Shel. The world they travel through is strange and captivating. There is an atmosphere infusing this book that I loved, dark and mysterious, and yet balanced by the light found in the bonds that form between the characters. Shel expands the world and adds detail and nuance to it. He gives readers time to breathe and absorb everything he has and is creating. His prose brought landscapes and scenes to life with an almost brutal poetry. This made scenes, like some of the battles, and scenes toward the finale come to blazing life in my mind’s eye.

There is a bit of a mystery at the core of Sin Eater, and it seems to only loom larger as the book progresses. In some ways, I felt like this was a “roll the snowball down the hill” kind of plot. Things start out well enough, smaller and fairly contained, and then as the book gets going, everything seems to get larger, more complex, more immediate, and darker. There are threads here that will clearly bind the series together, and then there are some that are going to likely end up being book-specific. What I mean is, this book answers enough questions to satisfy the reader, but will also leave you gaping, and eagerly tracking down the next book. 

The core of Sin Eater was fascinating, and I felt, in some ways, like Shel wasn’t just telling a good story but playing on a deeper theme as well. Sin Eater is a fun book to read, but it works on numerous levels. The evil god, the religion, the violence, the corruption was all interesting (and honestly, some of the best antagonist work I’ve ever seen), but it all felt a bit deeper as well. Here, we have a book that examines the fears we carry within us, the weight of pain, the burden of morality. Characters don’t miraculously heal. Previous trauma isn’t forgotten. Life is messy and hard, and pain is felt physically, mentally, and emotionally and that matters. And still, the characters push through because that’s life. You keep going–for belief, for duty, for love, for curiosity, or desire–because what other option is there? In the face of extreme odds, of dark shadows, violence and outrage, mystery and mayhem, they keep going. This humanization, this realism, made every part of Sin Eater shine.

And so we are left with a tapestry created by a master artist. Shel knows exactly how to weave his story together with the greatest finesse. Sin Eater is combination of complex elements that, under his skilled touch, combine to create a book that had me holding on with bated breath until the very last page.

Sin Eater was a stunning installment to a series that has quickly turned into one of my favorites out there. Mike Shel is a fantasy master.

5/5 stars