In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.
Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.
When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.
Onyebuchi’s world brings forth a society that has corporeal sin-beasts and sin-eaters, called aki, who rid people of their sins. In Kos, the aki are treated like untouchables, prominently because they are considered unclean and full of sin, never mind the fact that it is other people’s sins that they carry and get rid of. But they are held apart from society and even the royals, who utlitize their services frequently to maintain a pure image and soul, don’t hold them in much regard. The kingdom’s royals are carefree and negligent to the plight of their people, though, despite their ‘pure souls’. Taj is an aki, who is particularly skilled, and gets caught in the politics of Kos due to his power.
The world of the book is well constructed, and the author’s writing lends to a vivid imagery of a kingdom ruled by the image of purity, while the common people live in terrible conditions. Taj’s descriptions of his neighborhood, the food, the customs and the art and religion all add wonderful details to the world. His mounting dread about his future as he eats more and more sin-beasts comes across well in the prose, with there being a distinct narrative shift that lends it a bit of realism. The politics of Kos, while convoluted, also make pretty good sense. I loved the parts about the mages and the scholars, and the education systems of Kos, the corruption within their ranks and how the knowledge is controlled in the world.
Where the book disappointed me was in developing the romance – considering Taj is moony-eyed over the princess for more than half the book, I expected bit more of an emotional connection to come out in the text. Instead, it is like one or two ‘close’ moments where she basically fetishizes his tattoos and the next moment, he is infatuated and basically declaring his love by the end of the novel. His complicated relationship with his sicario and the mage he befriends are comparatively better developed. His own emotional development feels lackluster and I don’t know if it is his reaction to the sins, but he feels distant from the readers.
Some scenes also didn’t make sense on the storyline, like when the king orders him arrested, or when he joins the palace but doesn’t actually do anything – it felt like there were plot-holes in the timeline. The ending also dropped out of nowhere and the book ends on a (sort of) cliffhanger.
Essentially, while this was an interesting concept and a rare mythology being explored, it felt like there were parts that could have been restructured or made more complete.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Razorbill (Penguin Group), via Netgalley.