Last week I read Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim! Check out my review below, but keep in mind it does have spoiler’s!
On a debtor’s ship that employs children, Amaya,(AKA Silverfish), has spent the last 7 years working for a cruel captain harvesting pearls. Captain Zharo is an evil man who works many of the children on his ship to death, and increases their life sentence for the smallest of infractions. He even goes so far as to forbid them from using their real names, stripping them of their identity, and instead naming them after fish. However, Amaya is days away from being free, and she is looking forward to returning to her mother in Moray and putting the last seven years of darkness behind her. But just before she gains her freedom, she rescues a man from drowning expressly against her captain’s wishes. This causes Captain Zharo to increase her debt and therefore her sentence as well as drop some terrible news, her mother is dead and has been dead for the last 3 years. He says he didn’t tell Amaya until now because he knew her work would suffer if she was grieving her mother. Devastated, Amaya is too focused on getting free of the ship to listen to the man she rescued, Boon, who claims to be the richest man in the world. Amaya earns her freedom back by performing a dangerous dive to retrieve enough pearls to pay off her debt, and is almost free when the Captain realizes that she helped Boon to escape. Zharo is enraged and attempts to shoot Amaya who jumps off the ship and swims to safety.
Amaya awakens on an island, and is beginning to regret her hasty decision to jump ship when Boon appears. He leads her to an underground dwelling with gold and riches everywhere and a group of people who have been wronged by the rich families. The group hatches a plan to get revenge on the debtor ship’s captain and the family that owns the ship, the Mercados.
Cayo Mercado is the disgraced son of the wealthy Mercado trading family. He is a recovering gambling addict who has singlehandedly bankrupted his families fortune in the gambling halls of Moray. He is trying to earn back his father’s trust, when his beloved sister falls ill to a deadly disease called Ash Fever. This disease requires treatment, for which the medication is incredibly expensive. Since the Mercados are newly poor, they are unable to pay for her medicine and Cayo is wracked with guilt. His father suggests he befriend/seduce the newly arrived Countess Yamaa in order to regain their riches and pay for the sister’s medication. Cayo is discouraged by how sick his sister is and plots a quicker way to obtain the funds for her medication. He attempts to take things into his own hands and approaches the disreputable Slum King to earn money by gambling and working for him. The Slum King makes another offer, if Cayo marries his daughter Romara then he will pay for Cayo’s sisters medication.
The book alternates between Cayo’s and Amaya’s perspectives, Amaya is pretending to be a wealthy Countess Yamaa in order to get close to the Mercado’s and ruin their family. However, she is often distracted by the need for revenge against Captain Zharo who now lives in Moray. Cayo is trying to get close to the countess, but becomes embroiled in discovering who is behind a plot to produce counterfeit money in Moray. Both of these characters are astonished to find a sweet romance building between them, but this mutual attraction is often suppressed by both parties because they both have very honest natures (ironically) and don’t want to lead the other person on while actively plotting against them.
These plots all merge when we discover that the man behind Amaya’s adventure as Countess Yamaa and the revenge plot against the Mercado’s, Boon is in fact a villain. He is behind the counterfeit coin which also has been a conduit for Ash Fever, which has been a subplot causing political unrest in Moray due to it killing off many important people in Moray, including the Prince. Boon becomes impatient with Amaya’s misgivings about harming Cayo’s family and kidnaps Cayo and his sister with the intention of killing them to get revenge on their father who betrayed him. Amaya is able to save the siblings, but reveals her true identity while doing it. The book ends with Cayo and Amaya confronting each other about their deceptions, and agreeing to sail to another country where it is rumored Cayo’s sister could be cured of her disease.
I really enjoyed reading this book! It is a fun read with compelling main characters who make you want to root for them. I love that each of these characters is imperfect but actively working towards being better people. Amaya’s character development is fantastic, in the beginning she is struggling to reconcile “silverfish” who is a bit more selfish and rough around the edges with “Amaya” who she feels like she hasn’t been since before she was on the debtor ship. She is unable to trust people (especially adults) and is fueled by revenge and rage. As the book progresses you watch her learn a little bit more about how she ended up on the debtor ship, and what that means for who she is. You also watch as she learns to trust people again, and watch her learn to trust herself. Her training with Boon provides her with the tools she needs to unpack the fact that she is no longer a helpless child, that she is now a strong and courageous woman who can help herself. Amaya’s resilience and ultimately kind and courageous nature overcome her need for revenge, and by the end of the book she is no longer interested in Boon’s obsession with revenge but in moving on with her life.
Cayo is a male protagonist we don’t often get to see in fantasy! He has a much softer, sweeter personality than your typical male hero. In fact, Amaya has to rescue him! Cayo is filled with self-loathing over his gambling addiction, and its part in his sister’s illness. He spends the entire novel feeling desperate to save her. Cayo’s love for his sister is what inspires him to quit gambling, and the novel shows how hard his recovery still is. This adds another level to his self loathing, as even after all the hell the ramifications his addiction is putting him and his family through, he still longs to go back to his old habits. Card games are a prevalent part of society in Moray so Cayo is faced with temptation over and over again. But he never falters in his path towards recovery, and he even puts himself in a place where he faces temptation constantly by offering to work for the Slum King (who owns the gambling halls) in order to save his sister. Cayo faces a lot of internal conflict in this novel as he starts to unravel his father’s legacy and sees how his father’s business dealings harm others. His character still has some developments to make, but the blindfold of his privelaged/sheltered life has been taken off and I am looking forward to seeing what he does with his new viewpoint. Tara Sim’s characters are what shine in this novel, and I am very excited to see what happens in the sequel.
Now let’s talk about world building. With any new fantasy world, the world building can feel like it’s really holding back the story. I think fantasy would have a much heavier reader load if it weren’t for world building because it can be so confusing. Usually, by the time the novel ends you can piece together why the author took the time to go over the elaborate details of this new world and you forgive the author for making you go through the often times boring process of learning about the history, social and cultural constructs of this setting. Tara Sim’s approach to world building is one of my least favorites, basically you crash land into your main character’s perspective and have to try and figure out what in the world the character is by the small fragments of information running through the character’s inner thoughts. There is no long, rambling explanations given about the history of the world, and you are left a very confused tourist in a new country. In some ways, I can see that the benefit of this is that as previously mentioned, the author doesn’t have to go through a long dull explanation. But it can sometimes backfire and make the reader so confused that it is hard to follow the plot, and that is how I felt reading this novel. With that said, there is a sequel of this book that I plan to read and a lot of the time I find that once you spend more time in your character’s world things become a little clearer.
The plot of this novel is said to be loosely based off The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m just going to take the author’s word for it because I have no memory of reading this book, although I’m sure I did in some junior high English class. I found the plot to be a little bit jolt-y. It jumps around from long in the past to more recent past to present, particularly in the beginning of the book which made it hard to get invested in the story. I put this book down a few times because I just wasn’t getting into it, but about 2/3 of the way the through the novel the plot picked up fluidity and I was engrossed until the last page. I did really enjoy how all the plots and subplots all tied together.
Overall, I would rate this novel a 3/5 stars. I am taking off two points for jolt-y pacing and a lack of world building which both combined to make for a very slow beginning and middle of the book. However, I am glad I stuck out a slow start because the writing style was superb, the ending tied together nicely, and the characters glowed through the page. Also, I am a fan of the revenge plot trope, and strong female protagonists so because of this, I am giving this novel three stars.