Author Tara Sim used The Count of Monte Cristo as a template for the plot of this young adult fantasy, re-situating the action in a different world, updating it, switching genders of some of the characters, and adding a lot of diversity. The original story is quite complicated, and Sim does a nice job in making all the identity swapping, manipulation, and deception understandable and interesting, rather than tedious, to untangle.
We first meet Amaya Chandra as a young girl. She is working on a debtor ship staffed by children sold by their parents to work off debts. The ship is commanded by Captain Zharo, a villain who, like the other bad guys in the story, is a caricature of evil, with no nuance whatsoever. The non-villains, on the other hand, are drawn in shades of gray, often musing about whether to do the right thing or satisfy their less admirable desires for revenge, oblivion, or other negative behaviors.
After Amaya, now a young adult, dares to abandon her work on the ship to rescue a man she sees drowning, Zharo is enraged. Amaya and the man, whose name is Boon, are forced to jump ship to save their lives. When they are safe, Boon tells Amaya that in payment for rescuing him, he will help her get revenge on Zharo if she helps him destroy his own enemy, a nobleman named Kamon Mercado. She agrees, and Boon proposes they get to Kamon through his son, Cayo.
With Boon’s help, Amaya assumes the disguise of a rich Countess, “Yamaa.” She soon meets Cayo Mercado, and reluctantly finds him quite likable. Cayo is not at all like his father, and Amaya comes to realize that destroying Kamon by hurting his son would not be fair or satisfactory in any way. Moreover, as she and Cayo become closer to one another, they discover truths about the other characters and their own family histories that change everything they thought they knew.
Evaluation: I enjoyed this book. The world-building was sketchy, but the story was complex enough already without having to learn all the sociopolitical aspects of this world. I look forward to seeing how the story evolves in the next book.
Published by Disney Hyperion, 2020