I am so massively disappointed by Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim that a part of me kind of wants to cry. I was so here for this book when I first learned of it. A gender-bent The Count of Monte Cristo retelling? I mean, how could I not be in love with this idea? It sounded so cool! And I’ve always been a massive fan of that story–though I do prefer the 2002 film version to literally everything–and so I was really excited about this book.
And then I read it…
I just. Why? Why did this book have to be so terribly bad?
A part of me just wants to point-blank stop and say that this really isn’t a The Count of Monte Cristo retelling. At all. Sure, it’s got some similarities, namely being more or less imprisoned with some rich guy, using his money to become a Count / Countess, and enacting revenge against those who ruined her life. But even that last bit is pushing it a little? I’m sorry, but what revenge did Amaya actually enact at all? Ugh, I’ll get back to that.
I just, what’s the word? Hate. Yeah, I hated it.
I don’t think there was a single aspect of it that I liked if truth be told. The plot was poorly done, the world-building was all over the place, and the characters were awful. I mean, I liked…Roach. And that would be about it. This is a problem in and of itself, though, since Roach is only in something like 10% of the story. I can’t even count the number of times I felt as though the author had set something up terribly. And I can speak to only one scene in the entire novel that I actually liked.
Honestly, I liked her in the beginning. When we’re first introduced to her she is Silverfish, a slave working off the debt that her father accrued on a ship captained by an evil and abusive man. Amaya’s introduction was actually decent. I liked her. I felt for her. But as the story goes on, I liked her less and less until finally I was just completely thrown as to what her purpose in the story was at all. This could very well have just been a story about Boon, the rich man she helps escape, and ultimately didn’t even need Amaya at all.
And considering Boon is also in about 10% of the story, this is kind of sad.
But Amaya was just useless. I don’t know how the hell I was supposed to take her seriously as a counterpart to Edmund Dantes. She did nothing but flounder about and make stupid decisions. For a character who is supposed to be emulating the cunning, charming, confident, and ruthless mind of someone hellbent on revenge and holding desperately to hate to keep him moving forward, Amaya was thoroughly pathetic. She didn’t do anything for the entire novel!
Amaya did none of the manipulating. In fact, the only things she ever really did was attempt to kill and kill a few people involved in her enslavement, both of which left a lot to be desired. None felt like any sort of revenge and neither were at the level of the true Count. The revenge enacted against the main person who ruined her life was something that she was, ultimately, so far removed from that it never even felt like she had a role in it. Not to mention the fact that he makes her cry later…
And none of this would be inherently bad if she wasn’t meant to be a representation of a specific character. But when you’re marketing this book as a retelling, you absolutely cannot decimate the character you’re meant to be retelling. And Amaya, in comparison to Edmund, was too weak. She was not the strong and driven, albeit somewhat misguided, character she should have been. Even worse, the revenge never really felt like hers. And, though this may be slightly spoiler-y, in the end, it truly wasn’t her revenge at all.
I remember thinking, while I was reading, that the setup for Amaya’s getting revenge seemed so poorly done. I never once felt that she had a true role in any of it. Her motivation always felt lacking and it didn’t help that even she questioned herself early on. Everything about Amaya’s motivation felt forced and cheap.
At times, I really wasn’t sure what to make of him. It doesn’t help that Amaya is supposed to be destroying his family for her revenge and his entire role in the story takes away any possibility for her to do that. And then they…sort of have a romance? That never once really feels legitimate. He was like this strange mix of Maximilien Morell and Mercédès, if only because the Valentine character Maximilien falls for in the original is actually Cayo’s sister and his love interest, therefore, becomes the Countess in Scavenge the Stars.
Honestly, Cayo was just a mess.
From a ridiculous and horribly patched together gambling addiction plot to a trying to save his sister plot, to the betraying his father plot, to distractedly being interested in the Countess (but not really)…Cayo was all over the place. It was as though the author had a million ideas for him and instead of picking the few that would work for her story and nixing the rest, she just half-assed them all in order to keep every piece together.
It got to a point where I realized that every single character was just deeply underdeveloped. And all because Sim couldn’t stick to a few ideas and develop them. Instead, she tried to mix everything together and ultimately this really hurt every single one of her characters.
I think the best word I have for this story is underdeveloped. Sim doesn’t really develop anything. All the pieces she sets up are poorly planned and never really feel like she spent enough time on them. The story dragged so much because she tried to fit in all these little pieces and plot points and never really took them anywhere significant. Even the reveal about Amaya’s mother was so poorly done that I had to cringe. It was very reminiscent of deus ex machina and happened so quickly that the whole thing just felt extremely contrived.
All her minor characters were caricatures, leaving me unable to care about any of them. Therein lies the massive disappointment I feel with the fact that I even bothered to finish this book. There was so much potential here for something amazing and in every possible way, it fell flat. I was so excited, but now I’m just sad and tired.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.