This book was on my highly anticipated books of the year list and I thought it would finally be my introduction to the author’s writing. But I ended up reading her debut Timekeeper first and thought it was a good one, but somehow had the feeling this would be more my kinda fantasy. Then reading some mixed reviews made me a little apprehensive but thanks to some motivation from my friends and this book also being the January pick for SARC2020, I decided to pick it up and I’m so so happy I did.
I actually don’t remember if I read The Count of Monte Cristo in my childhood, so I know nothing about it except that it’s a revenge tale and I think I enjoyed not knowing the original tale and letting this retelling surprise me. So, I’m obviously not the right reviewer if you wanna know about how faithful or not this book is to its source material. However, I can say that it was very easy to follow right from the beginning, starting off a bit slow and taking time to let us get used to the characters before picking up pace towards the end. The plot is very tightly woven with many mysteries, some of which were predictable but many were not – it was a lot of fun unraveling them and watching them play out. I also loved how the author kept leaving little clues but never told the complete truth, making me not want to put down the book at all.
The world building is not expansive in this book like I’m usually accustomed to in other fantasies. As most of the story takes place in a single city, we only get to know the one place intimately with info about the various sectors, the economy and political tensions, the disparity between the filthy rich and the poor and how the debtors system works. We are told about other empires which surround Moray and how they are trying to gain access to the prominent trade routes but the story never goes into detail about them. But the way the ending is setup, it looks like we might get a bigger picture in the sequel and I’m all here for it. As an Indian reader, it was awesome to see an all POC cast in the book, and though we realize that each of the kingdoms here are inspired by various Asian countries, the author tries to keep them a bit ambiguous but I didn’t really mind it. And the queer normative world shown here was beautiful – everyone just being who they want to be, whether it’s demi, bisexual, aro, wlw or trans.
Amaya is a multi faceted young woman and I really admired her for it. Her years on the debtors ship have hardened her and it’s a motivator for revenge, but on the other hand she is also very compassionate and is always thinking about how her actions might impact others. This girl who could be both driven by her anger and her kindness was a revelation and I’m very excited that I got to know her. Cayo on the other hand is a privileged young man who turned to drinking and gambling to drown away his sorrows but is trying to rectify his mistakes because his whole world is on the verge of collapse. I liked that the author showed us that he is working towards being better, never excusing his previous behavior or condemning his addiction. And despite appearances, he is very soft hearted guy who just wants his sister to be safe and happy.
I liked how the dynamic between Amaya and Cayo developed. It’s kind of an enemies to lovers story but only party knows it, so that was fascinating and I also enjoyed that the author took time to make the characters understand each other a bit before acting on their feelings. There are also no instant love declarations which is kind of nice even though I wouldn’t have minded if that had been the route taken. There are some amazing scenes between the two, a particular one being the absolutely adorable mud fight.
There is also a huge cast of side characters but we never do get to know any of them in detail. Roach is Amaya’s best friend and the bond they share due to surviving together on the debtors ship is deep and loyal, but I really wanted more time with them together coz he seemed like an excellent character. Liesl and Dead Shot are a badass f/f couple who are helping and protecting Amaya in her endeavor and while we got to see them a little in action, I wanted more. We do get to know Cayo’s sister Soria a bit better and I thought she was such a lovely girl and always brought some lightness to the proceedings. There are also many other small characters who play significant roles for a little bit of time and villains whose motivations are very mysterious and we never know who is betraying whom.
In conclusion, I kept my expectations a bit low after reading some of the reviews but the book totally surpassed them all and I had a lot of fun reading it. If you like the classic The Count of Monte Cristo, I think you should give this a try though I can’t tell how close it is to the original. And if you are like who hasn’t read the original but love reading character focused YA fantasies with a diverse cast, a revenge drama, slow unraveling of mysteries and the promise of more political intrigue, then I think you’ll enjoy this book a lot. That ending wrapped up a lot of unknowns and but left enough questions unanswered to make me excited already for the sequel.