Review: Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn
Written by Elizabeth Lim

Part One of The Blood Of Stars Series

Published: June 2, 2020

Teen & Young Adult Romance | Teen & Young Adult Fantasy Fiction

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping 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 can prepare 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.

Initially, the book’s concept didn’t really grab me. Much as I enjoy both Disney’s Mulan and the antics on Project Runway, I wasn’t sure the premise was strong enough to really “make it work” for an entire book.

In the end, there were three things that persuaded me to give it a look: the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, the fact that two of my local Chapters employees recommended it to me, and that the cover art was just plain gorgeous.

(Seriously, the artist, Tran Nguyen, deserves an enormous amount of recognition for her talent and I’ll be on the lookout for more of her artwork in the future!

Link to her website HERE.)

Despite my initial skepticism, by the end of the first chapter I was absolute hooked. While Lim does borrow elements from Mulan and other fairy tales, she stitches them together such in a fantastic and original way that I couldn’t help but be drawn in.

True to the inspiration of Eastern history and mythology, Lim’s world is rife with intrigue and mystery and from the first moments of the competition, neither Maia nor the reader can be sure what to expect.

Far from being a shaky premise, the more challenges that were presented to the tailors, the more I wanted to see this fashion competition go on. Lim’s masterful prose describes the gowns Maia creates with such breathtaking detail that I could almost feel the silks in my hands. Add a touch of unpredictable magic, threats of sabotage, backstabbing competitors, and even last minute challenges from their fickle judge, and you have a winning combination in my book!

Our tailor protagonist is as determined as any of her fellow competitors, and the driving force behind this story. Maia does fall into the Mulan archetype: a young girl who disguises herself as a boy to save her family, just without the lucky cricket.

But it didn’t matter. I liked Maia. I enjoyed her struggle, her passion to pursue a forbidden position, her bravery, and especially her determination in her perilous quest across the land for the heavenly gowns. Maia’s creativity, her ability to think on her feet to surpass impossible odds and create truly magnificent garments, was my favourite component of the book, and I would argue, one of the story’s strongest elements.

Rarely does fantasy explore characters who are craftsmen, tailors, artists, or blacksmiths, but Lim’s protagonist demonstrates just what can happen when we reach for new inspiration. Maia is talented, determined, noble, and loves her family and her craft so deeply and truly that it’s hard not to route for her – I’d even say it’s impossible.

The one major criticism I had with the book, however, is in part due to Maia’s skill as a tailor: the competition only lasts for roughly half the book.

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy Maia’s journey to find the sun, moon, and stars for the three gowns, but I found myself disappointed that the Project Runway portion of the book was cut short.

No pun intended. (Mostly)

There was so much suspense, so much imagination, so many beautiful designs that I just kept hoping for more!

Personally, I would have loved it if that had been the entire book, and Maia’s quest had been given it’s own separate volume. Expanding on more of the palace intrigue between the Emperor and his reluctant Empress-to-be, or including more and more difficult challenges and vicious betrayals within the competition would have made for an incredible story all on it’s own. And ending with Maia being given the task of creating the mythical gowns would have been a stunning conclusion.

But, I can’t complain too much. As it is Spin the Dawn is a thoroughly enchanting read from beginning to end with a fantastic cast of characters, a clever magic system, and a cliffhanger ending that will definitely have me on the edge of my seat until I can get my hands on the sequel. Definitely worth the read.

Overall a fantastic read and something I will be recommending to others!

Thanks so much for reading everyone! I’ll be back with a new review very soon.

On to the next adventure!

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