Review – Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
Series: The Blood of Stars #1
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers on July 9, 2019
Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.
Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she'll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There's just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.
Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia's task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.
And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor's reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.
Steeped in Chinese culture, sizzling with forbidden romance, and shimmering with magic, this young adult fantasy is pitch-perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas or Renée Ahdieh.
I have to admit, I am a sucker for the girl dressed as a boy trope, so this book had an immediate edge for me. Maia dreams of becoming the best tailor in the empire. However, a dream is all that it can be as women are not allowed to be tailors, a career reserved only for men. So instead, she works quietly behind the scenes of her father’s business, gaining skill and experience, but knowing that she can never take over or become the face of the business. Instead, she will be expected to marry and be a good wife and all that boring stuff that is expected of women.
But when an invitation is extended to her father for an incredible opportunity and honor to the royal court, Maia seens an opportunity. Her father has been declining in ability and would certainly not be able to attend himself, and her brother would have no interest or ability as well. So, that leaves her, with the option of attending as her brother. It’s a real risk to both her and her father’s reputation, but the allure of it plus her confidence that she was skilled enough outweighs the risk.
This book, at least for a good section, has a definite Project Runway feel as the top tailors in the empire have been invited to compete for the sole position of imperial tailor. The competition is cut throat and there are a series of competitions with strict guidelines that make the task more challenging. This adds a layer of fun and excitement to the book, plus since I used to watch Project Runway, I just felt an added level of familiarity and amusement with these challenges.
The romance becomes a pretty heavy component of this book, and I found myself on the edge of enjoying it and trying to decide if it was too much, or maybe just too quick. I did fall on the side of enjoyment, but I suspect if it had been toned down a little, or slowed down a bit, I might not have questioned it.
Overall, this was an incredibly readable and enjoyable tale, one that I look forward to returning to in the next installment.