Scavenge the Stars

Scavenge the Stars was written by Tara Sim and first published in 2020. It is a fantasy story that is loosely inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. The novel forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Although Amaya is only a teenager, she has had everything taken from her. Sold to a debtor’s ship to pay off what her father owes, she risks life and limb pearl diving for her master. It has taken her years, but she is close to earning her freedom. That is, until she disobeys a direct order and rescues a drowning man.

Boon claims to be the wealthiest man in Moray and seems more than willing to share his fortune with his saviour. Amaya is pretty certain that he is lying but is tantalised by what Boon offers her. With such wealth, she can buy a place in Moray’s high society. From there, she can finally have her revenge against Kamon Mercado – the man who stole everything from her family.

Yet Moray has changed a lot while Amaya has been away. Ash fever is sweeping through the populous unchecked, killing more and more each day. When Cayo Mercado’s sister falls ill, he knows that he needs to do everything in his power to prolong her life. His investigations take him deep into the underworld of Moray and reveals uncomfortable truths about his father’s business dealings. They also bring him into contact with the Countess Yamaa – a mysterious newcomer who also seems to have some interest in his family.

Both Amaya and Cayo are playing a dangerous game, and both know that even the smallest slip-up will result in certain death…

As a fan of both The Count of Monte Cristo and Sim’s Timekeeper series, I was really excited to get my hands on a copy of this book. Unfortunately, as I got more and more invested in the story, I started to realise that it was not quite the gem that I had been hoping for.

Scavenge the Stars is a fast-paced novel and was very quick to draw me in. The narrative alternated between Amaya (a slave aboard a debtor’s ship and later a phoney countess) and Cayo (the son and heir of a wealthy businessman). While it took a long time before these two narratives intersected, it did do a fantastic job of individually introducing both characters and making me care about the problems that each faced. However, as I reached the middle of the tale, I began to notice some weaknesses in the world building.

The novel exposits the tense political situation that Moray is in. It is a coastal neutral zone between two opposing regimes, known only as the Rain and Sun Empires. However, there is nothing truly distinct about any of these powers. We don’t learn anything about differences in the two cultures, or get a feel for what the sights and smells of Moray actually were. While I got the impression that Moray was a bit of a cross between Morocco and Tortuga, the lack of physical descriptions made it difficult to picture exactly what the period and style of the story was.

As Scavenge the Stars progressed, it was the many twists in the tale that kept my interest. It is a novel where no one is quite as they seem and everyone hides a secret. However, as exciting as this could be, the story still lacked something fundamental. Up until the climax, it was hard to get a grasp on how the various different parties – particularly Kamon Mercado, the Slum King, Amaya’s father and Boon – were actually connected, as many early assumptions made by Amaya and Cayo proved to be false.

Although things did start to come together around thirty pages from the end, this was a bit too late in the tale and left a lot of hanging loose ends to be answered in the sequel. In particular, the true nature of ash fever and how it is spread really came out of left field at the eleventh hour. I do think that there should have been more hints to this throughout the novel.

It was in terms of characterisation that Scavenge the Stars truly shone. There was an impressive amount of diversity in the story, as people of colour and different sexualities all received equal portrayal. Amaya was depicted as being dark skinned and Cayo was bisexual. This is always something that it is refreshing to find in a novel, especially as Moray’s culture seems to be completely open to this and so there is no homophobia or racism to be found in this story.

The two protagonists were both wonderfully flawed characters who receive a lot of growth as the story progresses. Cayo is forced to come to terms with the terrible origins of his father’s wealth, while Amaya slowly learns that lust for revenge is poison to the soul. I really loved the complexity of their personalities and the slow way that their relationship developed over the course of the story. While their mutual attraction never quite blossomed into romance, it felt completely realistic given the how badly damaged both parties were.

The supporting cast of the story were also memorable, but I wish that they had received a little more development. In particular, I did feel that Scavenge the Stars should have made more of Amaya’s time training with Boon. Boon is one of the most important characters to the story as his wealth and experience makes Amaya’s revenge fantasies actually possible, yet he barely appears in the novel. While we do see a little of Amaya’s training in flashbacks, it is never clear how much time she spends under his wing or the true depth of what she learned from him.

Anyhow, I think that about covers everything. All in all, this one was a bit of a mixed bag. While the plot and world-building have their weaknesses, Scavenge the Stars was redeemed by its powerful and diverse cast. I did not enjoy this story as much as I did Timekeeper, but I am very curious to see where the sequel will take it.

Scavenge the Stars can be purchased as a Hardback and eBook from Amazon.co.uk

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