I can't believe I haven't already posted a review of this since I read it last year!
The plot drew me in immediately. When we first meet our protagonist, Edmond Dantes everything is right in his world. Not only he is well-loved and respected but he is on the brink of being promoted to captain on the ship he sails. But there are those who are jealous of his success and happiness, including both a colleague and a love rival. They conspire to spread rumors about him and, on the day of his wedding no less, he is arrested and then falsely imprisoned. Where he stays for fourteen years. Eventually he escapes and after a time working on a ship he retrieves the treasure a fellow prisoner (now deceased) told him about. Dantes then spends the rest of the novel carrying out elaborate schemes of revenge on those who wronged him.
Up until this point I enjoyed the novel. Dantes was a sympathetic character and the reader could genuinely root for him as he struggled through the mostly isolated prison experience and patiently worked to escape. Not only does the plot become more complex and difficult to follow (Dantes assumes multiple disguises and aliases, and the reader isn't always initially aware of them), but Dantes himself becomes less sympathetic, less easy to relate to, and less easy to empathize with. On the one hand I can understand that being unjustly imprisoned for fourteen years would make anyone bitter add harden them, and I'm sure revenge felt sweet. Yet some of his desire for revenge felt unjustified and simply mean-spirited. Mercedes, after all, had done nothing to harm him, had tried to secure his release and had only married after being falsely informed of Dantes's death. It seems he felt she should have remained true to him forever. Yet, if he truly loved her wouldn't he want her to find happiness? Even in those cases where Dantes's desire for revenge was more justified, I still wondered if he would have been happier if he had spend his time and energy trying to positively experience his freedom, rather than focusing on revenge.
For me The Count of Monte Cristo was a novel of two halves. For all its length it was not a difficult read and was an excellent illustration of the perils of revenge.