The story takes place in France, Italy, islands in the Mediterranean, and in the Levant during the historical events of 1815–1838 (from just before the Hundred Days to the reign of Louis-Philippe of France). The historical setting is a fundamental element of the book. An adventure story primarily concerned with themes of hope, justice, vengeance, mercy and forgiveness, it focuses on a man who is wrongfully imprisoned, escapes from jail, acquires a fortune and sets about getting revenge on those responsible for his imprisonment. However, his plans have devastating consequences for the innocent as well as the guilty.
The book is considered a literary classic today.