When Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have earned her a longer sentence on the debtor ship where she’s been held captive for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide.
Amaya wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of deception—and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she’s plotting to bring down—the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she realizes she must trust no one…
Warnings: child abuse and indentured servitude, addiction and alcohol abuse, sick family member, physical violence and homicide
Retellings are like catnip to me, and when it is a retelling with diversity, I am always excited. This story is a genderbent version of Count of Monte Cristo, where one of our protagonist, Amaya, having returned from a long indenture at sea is planning revenge on the people that caused her to be there. Given at a very young age to a ship to pay off family debts, she and other children like her, called Bugs, are mistreated by the captain and have lived a mostly lonely life. At nearly the end of her term of service, she rescues a rich-looking man from the sea, partially hoping for a reward that would hasten her debt resolution, but instead has her life shattered. The other protagonist, Cayo, the son of the merchant who is the target of her revenge, is recovering from a gambling addiction after nearly bankrupting himself, and trying to prove to his father that he can be responsible. When his sister falls ill with a disease that has been spreading in their city-state of Moray, he is pulled by his desires to fix things quickly the only way he knows how.
The story starts off with different timelines for the leads, and merges it soon enough, as Amaya returns to Moray as a mysterious Countess who is taking high society by storm. Cayo, intrigued by her, and also encouraged by his father to seek favors with her, crosses paths with her often. While they both are holding secrets close to their heart, they both find a kinship in each other. Their story arcs do play separately, as Cayo, desperate for money to buy medicine for the sister his father refuses to spend money, makes a deal with the Slum King, while also trying to investigate the latter for the Port Authority. He is also fighting his addiction when it is everywhere in his life, whether is wandering the streets of a city known for its casinos, or with his ‘friends’ at parties. Amaya who has been subtly pushing Cayo towards hints of his father’s misdeeds, and hoping to use him for the destruction of the Mercado family, starts realizing that she cannot punish him, too, for his father’s crimes. She is also starting to think beyond the red-tinged haze of revenge, to find ‘Amaya’ in between trying to leave behind ‘Silverish’ and keeping her ‘Countess’ facade, when that is an identity she had left 7 years ago. Finding the person who orchestrated her father’s fall and her being sold becomes a mission for her, while her mentor, Boon is trying to direct her towards revenge against the Mercados. The emotional landscape of both their stories is well-done.
I liked the world-building in the book, with its rich imagining of the cultures, the dressing, the mythology that appeared in snippets as chapter headings; I wish, though, it was more clear about which kingdom belongs to which empire (I really hope there are maps in the final version, because I couldn’t figure out). The plot was flowing smoothly, building up the tension between the two main characters and how their threads would twist as the story was reaching its end, but I felt the ending was a bit messy. Between the fact that Boon’s plan made no sense, and finding out mid-way during the book that Amaya didn’t actually orchestrate the Mercado’s financial ruin (I honestly thought they had done something, but nope I was left being ‘wait you didn’t do that?’), what exactly was the revenge plan is a big question. Also the ash fever that permeated the city made no sense from the start – the Port Authority was checking incoming people for signs of disease, but it is not contagious (Cayo frequently is in contact with his sister and nobody else gets sick) so why were they doing that? When I compare the story arcs of the lead, Cayo’s feels more satisfying, while Amaya’s sort of falls apart towards the end; I do hope that it is better in the sequel.
Is it diverse? Biracial WOC main character; Bisexual main character who is also a recovering addict; secondary queer and PoC characters
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Disney-Hyperion, via Netgalley.
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Released on January 7, 2020