Book Review: Spin the Dawn
Spin the Dawn
(The Blood of Stars #1)
Written by Elizabeth Lim
Published by Knopf
Publication date: 9th July 2019
Summary (from Goodreads):
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
Ask me to spin the finest yarn or thread, and I can do it faster than any man— even with my eyes closed.
Yet ask me to tell a lie, and I will stumble and falter to think of one. I have never had a talent for spinning tales. My brother Keton knows this better than anyone. Even though his brows rise once or twice as I tell him everything— of the three impossible tasks I was given, of the demon and ghosts I encountered on my journey, and of the enchantment that surrounded our emperor— my brother believes me.
Baba, my father, does not. He sees through the shadows I hide behind. That beyond the smile I give Keton, my eyes are red and raw. They are swollen from crying for hours, days even. What he cannot see is that in spite of the tears drying on my cheeks, my heart is hard. I dread reaching the end of my story, for it is full of knots that I haven’t had the courage to cut free.
Distant drums pound. They draw closer with every second, a stirring reminder of the little time I have left to make my choice.
If I go back , I leave behind who I am. I will never see my family again, never see my face in the mirror again, never hear my name called again. But I would give up the sun and moon and stars if it meant saving him.
Him—the boy with no name and yet a thousand names. The boy whose hands are stained with the blood of stars. The boy I love.
First impressions: I knew that I had to read this as soon as I saw it mentioned – isn’t that synopsis great? I was so certain that I would love it that I pre-ordered a hardback copy and was lucky enough to get all sorts of lovely goodies from the author too. Unfortunately, waiting for my pre-order was torturous, so I was luck enough to be approved for a review copy on Netgalley. I devoured this book in just a few hours as I could not stop reading!
I liked Maia, instantly, especially as she establishes her relationships with her family. All of her brothers and their personalities were described with such warmth and seemed so genuine that I found myself falling in love with her family a little too. Having heard that this book was inspired by Mulan, I was expecting that Maia would take her father’s place to go to war, yet with three brothers to take up this role it hardly seemed like she would be needed. I was interested to read that, while she is a talented tailor, she has very few martial skills, so her service to the Empire comes in the form of these sewing skills rather than as a soldier.
I have not seen Project Runway, but I am guessing that the sewing competition Maia enters at the palace is inspired by this. Because, of course, it couldn’t be so easy as to just turn up at the palace and become the next imperial tailor. Instead, each artist must create several outfits to impress the Emperor’s reluctant fiancee, Lady Sarnai. I have to admit that I was fascinated by her character. She seemed, at times quite cold, while at others almost conflicted. I was also fascinated by the geo-political context in which the story has set and Lady Sarnai’s role in this as an accomplished warrior who is not given her due because of being a woman. In many ways, I could almost see her sympathizing with Maia, although it would be dangerous for her to be found out.
What I thought was going to be the whole story, was actually just Part 1! In Part 2, Maia sets off on an epic journey to gather the materials needed to make three dresses of legend, captured within magical walnut shells (more fairytale inspiration here, this time from Cinderella). She is accompanied by Edan, the Emperor’s enchanter. At first, I was a little suspicious of Edan, but grew to like him more as the story went on. I really wanted to love the romance, and I did warm to it as the characters became closer, but I am rally invested in seeing where it goes in future books.
This story took me away from the real world, transporting me fully into Maia’s magical, Chinese-inspired story. Definitely one to watch!
Then there was me— Maia. The obedient daughter. My earliest memories were of sitting contentedly with Mama as she worked the spinning wheel, listening to Finlei, Sendo, and Keton playing outside while Baba taught me to roll Mama’s thread so it wouldn’t tangle. My heart was for becoming a tailor: I learned to thread needles before I could walk, to make a line of perfect stitches before I could talk. I loved my needlework and was happy learning Baba’s trade instead of going out with my brothers. Besides, when Finlei taught me to spar and shoot arrows, I always missed the target. Even though I soaked up Sendo’s fairy tales and ghost stories, I could never tell one of my own. And I always fell for Keton’s pranks, no matter how often my older brothers warned me of them. Baba proudly told me I was born with a needle in one hand, a pair of scissors in the other. That if I hadn’t been born a girl, I might have become the greatest tailor in A’landi, sought after by merchants from one coast of the continent to the other.
“A tailor’s worth is not measured by his fame, but by the happiness he brings,” Mama said, seeing how disappointed Baba’s words made me. “You will hold the seams of our family together, Maia. No other tailor in the world can do that.” I remembered beaming at her. Back then, all I wanted was for my family to be happy and whole like this—always. But then Mama died, and everything changed.
What I liked: The characters and the warm familial relationships, Lady Sarnai, the beginnings of the romance between Maia and Edan, the magical scissors and how magic is woven into the world-building.
Even better if: I felt that Edan’s attitude was a little unrealistically child-like at times considering his age. That set me apart from the romance a bit.
How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a great recommendation for any fans of fairytales or fantasy, or anybody looking to read an #ownvoices, diverse fantasy. I loved it!
About the Author
Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, “Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that’s kinda cool!” But after one of her teachers told her she had “too much voice” in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English.
Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel — for kicks, at first, then things became serious — and she hasn’t looked back since.
Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.
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