Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim
When Silverfish rescues a man from drowning, she’s more concerned about gaining more debt from her act than his safety. But the man promises riches beyond her dreams—and revenge on those who wronged her and her family. Silverfish takes his vow, and transforms into the Countess Yamaa, the mysterious and fabulous newcomer set to take the city-state of Moray by storm, and bring it to its knees.
Whew. This was a mess.
I’ll be honest though, the first 40% was riveting, exciting and a unique spin on The Count of Monte Christo (admittedly, I have not read this), with a gender-swapped hero, a queer love interest, and lots of queer characters and characters of color.
And then the book sags into the weight of itself and never recovers.
Soft boi and stabby girls do not a book make
I liked Amaya (Silverfish). She was filled with rage and revenge for the way her family was treated, and at the system of debt that allowed her to be sold off to a debtor’s ship and beaten and starved for seven years along with with a boatload of other children. She was stabby and sharp and strong and determined to succeed—even if her motivations were a little all over the place and her acting skills not so fantastic (I preferred her as the mysterious Yamaa than when she awkwardly attempts to befriend Cayo). Her awkward transitions from Silverfish to Amaya to Yamaa were…clunky and felt a little over-done.
I also liked Cayo, a soft bisexual who just wants to recover and get over his old ways. He had a bad gambling addiction that nearly drove his family to bankruptcy, and just wanted to do right by his family legacy and his sister, and win his father’s trust. However, I felt that Amaya’s description of him as firmly rooted in the ground, a tree with his roots stretching down anchoring him to the earth (paraphrased) were incredibly off-base, since from the instant Cayo is being pulled in a billion directions and never really seems to find a point and stick to it. He’s constantly allowing himself to be pulled in whatever direction someone tugs him.
And with these two leads, I’ll be honest: the book was better before they met.
Once they meet, the plot sags into angst and half-baked counterfeit schemes and unsolved mysteries that cover everything from Cayo’s father’s legacy to the Slum King to the ash fever to Amaya’s family to the fate of Moray.
At first, I was intrigued by the Asian-inspired world of Moray, which felt like it could be an inspired Singapore, situated as it was between two huge empires with lots of economic power and at the junction of the best trade routes. Plus the vice sector and the fact that it was an island and city in one.
But place names and place names do not a fantasy world make. Sim threw out nouns and titles and names all over the place, which was fine in the beginning—because I expected more worldbuilding to grow and flourish, but this growth never happened. There continued to be generic place names without context, which is shoddy worldbuilding at best.
Plus the city-island of Moray, which consisted of a place for tea, a nice area where rich people and not-super-defined nobility live, I guess a palace for the Prince (who is not important enough for his own name), the docks, a random hidden beach/swimming area no one knows about, and The Vice Sector. For the record, the Vice Sector contains 90% of the city, but doesn’t have much more distinction beyond that and being…vicey? Lots of gambling.
Also, I’m still not 100% certain what Widow’s Vaults are/why they are important, but I think that has more to do with a lack of cultural understanding/ignorance on my end than lack of explanation on the author’s part.
However, the descriptions that were there were lovely. The oceans, the island life, the city, the people, the clothes, the food. When they were richly described, they were decadent.
The representation! This is a book of people of color! This is a book of queer people!
Amaya’s dresses. Fuck those all sounded absolutely gorgeous.
The Water Bugs and the Landless. I wanted more of them, and less of Amaya and Cayo. Granted, the romance didn’t really reach fruition…like most of this book.
Everything else. And Boon, that generic person who had little page time yet was very important for ~reasons~. Ditto to Cayo’s dad and also the Slum King and Ramona (sp??), who had a purpose in the novel??
This is bloated, messy and had so much potential but fell flat because it tried to do too much at once and lost its identity halfway through the process.
Also it kinda has the dreaded Bury Your Gays Trope, although in this case it’s more ship your gays off to a distant, uncharted land after maiming them (without context, this is not a spoiler).
Revenge book? Socio-political critique of debt and systematic injustice and poverty? An adventure mystery? Don’t Let Your Kids Gamble? A YA fantasy romance? Counterfeiting 101? It was all over the place, and tried to be too much at once.
I’m probably being far too harsh, but I think most of my disappointment lies with the execution, since the premise and potential was so high.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
Scavenge the Stars released 7 January 2020 from Disney Hyperion.