Granted this novel is a direct re-telling of the famous The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Unlike that famous romanticized adventure novel Fry's version is a bit darker and nastier. The characters are still very much over the top and the events are appropriately Baroque. But even with the inwardly shallow characters, the predictable romance and the obvious supporting cast there is something grand to be gleaned here. Dumas and every other author or film writer who has ever re-worked the story always chose to end the novel with some sort of reconciliation something good to take home. In Cristo the main character changes slowly after his escape from prison, he realizes there is still hope for a happy life and he makes peace with his past. That's the same idiocy as for example the psychopath Dexter turning into a lovable likable character the longer the tv show continues to run.
Of course that's not how these stories should end and Fry knows it. Characters learn and adapt but they don't change from saints to madman and back again. Ned acts and lives out his life as he would have and should have. It is both the best part of the novel as well as its weakness. To say it in a different way: the retribution and satisfaction achieved by the main character in Dumas' original is what sold the book and what made it famous, it is also what prevents Fry's version from becoming a classic of the same stature. I will leave it at that and have the reader find out how the story ends.
Stephen Fry is well known for his love of language. He lives in it, bathes in it and dresses in it. The fact that he creates in it is an unfortunate side effect. There is so much emphasis on Wilderesque language and anagrammatic stunts that some plot elements can become quite ridiculous. Coincidence is what drives the twists in this story. Unlike Dumas' version where events appear unusual but not unlikely, Fry's version leaps over the edge of the fantastic. It is the use of language that tips us off to perhaps Fry's personal reasons for creating this story. Knowing the fascination Fry has with Oscar Wilde, one has to wonder if perhaps this retelling is a way for the author to take his own personal revenge on those who incarcerated Wilde. Certain facts and characters that were changed from Cristo to Revenge can be seen as Wildish modifications. The character of Ashley for example stands out as such. In the end the balance of strange plot twists, shallow characters but persistent and believable human behavior is in Fry's favor. He has delivered an intriguing and pleasant read that is highly entertaining.