Sin Eater by Mike Shel

Sin Eater book cover
Rating 8.9/10
Sin Eater further solidifies Shel as a one of the brightest new talents in fantasy.

Have you ever sat down to watch “The Wizard of Oz,” but wished that Dorothy was a Holy BladesWoman and instead of visiting a wizard, they’re off to murder an evil trickster god? If so, have I got a book for you! Mike Shel’s, um, iconic Iconoclasts trilogy continues with his second entry, Sin Eater, an impressive follow-up to SPFBO4 finalist Aching God that explores inner fears, outer terrors, and expands the world’s lore farther than I ever could have imagined.

Like its predecessor Aching God, Sin Eater is a methodical and rewarding build over the course of its length. The story’s point of view switches between our old tortured friend Auric, his estranged daughter Agnes, and a mysterious but prescient old man with a long history and many names. Auric, Agnes, some old and new companions are sent on a mission they can’t refuse to fulfill a duty from which no one will likely return. In the meantime, the world is descending into chaos: the god of trickery has left the Pantheon and his disciples have been spreading destruction, murder, assault, and poison throughout the civilized lands. Nowhere is safe, and something must be done.

Shel includes various small details and fine touches of descriptions that enrich the story and fleshes out his characters. I enjoyed how he took his time with the reader, letting us get to know the habits of our growing cast, their desires, and their fears. There is one moment where “Agnes tilted her head into Chalca’s shoulder and hugged herself against him. After a few moments, she spoke.” This is a quiet moment without dialogue, but the care is expressed in body language between these two: he rustles her hair to help her sleep at night, or she leans into him after sharing a difficult story. I appreciated reading these silent, physical reactions to certain situations. They felt honest and real, and I’m glad dialogue wasn’t leaned on to portray these scenes.

There is an overarching mystery that lies central to the plot that becomes ever more complex as Auric and Agnes grow closer to its source. Little did I know that the answers it gave would not only serve as a satisfying solution to this story, but it answered so, so much more. Shel writes an interesting take on religion, and whether it is to be viewed as commentary to our own society is up to the reader. Still, it’s something to think about, and quite a shock when all is finally revealed.

Sin Eater is as much a journey into the center of an ancient mountain as it is a journey into discovering what fears we all carry within us. There are so many stories-within-a-story at play here, and it’s a testament to Shel’s talent to have their underlying themes tie into the greater thread of the Iconoclasts tapestry. The one item I wished could have been improved upon is that we delve a bit deeper into some of the supporting characters’ lives. We are given sketches of their backgrounds, but it would have been wonderful to witness the “Sin Eater treatment” of Qeelb and Chalca and another character or two. Even so, Sin Eater further solidifies Shel as a one of the brightest new talents in fantasy, and I’m looking forward to seeing to what horrors and madness he’ll be dragging his readers through next.

8.8 / 10   
-- 
Adam Weller

Sin Eater is the sequel to 2018’s Aching God. Mike Shel carries us once again to the Hanifaxan Imperium and treats us to another dark and disturbing tale. Sin Eater keeps the stunning ambiance and atmosphere from the first novel and couples it with more complex characters and deeper world building. Every bit as readable and engaging as the first novel, pick this one up as soon as you can.  

There is a lot to love about Sin Eater. For me, that begins with the setting. The Hanifaxan Imperium is a wonderful fantasy setting that tilts tropes just enough to become truly interesting. From a god of chaos who is worshiped widely to a mad queen whose every scene drips with creepiness the world shines because of the ambiance with which Shel is able to imbue it. We’re also given a much wider view of the world in this novel. In Aching God Auric Manteo was our sole viewpoint character. In the sequel, Shel continues giving us more of what we love with Auric, but also gives us chapters from his daughter, Agnes’, perspective as well as a few chapters from the perspective of an old man going by the name of Ush’oul. This serves to allow us a larger perspective on the world. The battles and fights are tense, tightly written. Shel writes disturbingly descriptive prose that creates vivid, sometimes grotesque, images. Violence is appropriately disturbing in his books, even more so when magic is involved. In addition, many of the questions we’re left with at the end of Aching God receive satisfying conclusions, or at least get fleshed out a great deal more. The characters themselves are also wonderful companions for this journey. In addition to Auric and Agnes, we meet Kennah, another Syraeic agent, as well as Chalca, a thespian thief, and Qeelb, a broken sorcerer. Sira Edjani also makes a return. I found the side characters to have extremely strong characterizations. I particularly enjoyed Chalca and Qeelb, partially for their banter, but also because each, in their own way, has a fascinating backstory that affects their current actions in profound ways. Chalca also reminds me a great deal of Sylvando from Dragon Quest XI—and that’s a wonderful thing. This one’s worth reading for the characters alone. Not only does Shel craft some wonderful characters, but he sets down a plot that grows truly epic by the end of the novel. The ending is incredibly satisfying while leaving enough questions to ensure that the trilogy’s final volume will be every bit as exciting as the first two entries.

There are a few things that didn’t entirely work for me. There were a couple moments in the first forty percent where things felt like they might have been able to be tightened up a little more. Because much of the action in the first half takes place in one geographical location, it feels a little bit like the plot doesn’t start moving along until the characters start traveling. This isn’t entirely accurate, but the feeling exists. There was still enough to hold my attention during that section of the novel and keep the pages turning, but it is worth noting that the story perhaps feels slower than it truly is during the first half. Also, there is an attempted sexual assault in this novel, which for some may cause pause.

Shel has given us a gem in Sin Eater. Wonderful ambiance, delightful characters, and a plot that expands to become authentically epic all combine for a splendid and satisfying read. Those who enjoyed Aching God will not be disappointed!

9.0 / 10
-- Calvin Park

This Sin Eater book review was written by and Calvin Park

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