A gifted tailor in disguise. Three legendary dresses. The competition of a lifetime.
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.
Admist the Cuiyan Ocean and the Taijin Sea lies an alternate fantastical Asia. A land of emperors, dressmakers, demons and sorcerers brimming with ivory palaces, sprawling snow-capped mountains and, a slight touch of magic.
Spin the Dawn is a whimsical, simply enchanting debut from Elizabeth Lim. While the book has been pitched as Mulan meets Project Runway, Spin the Dawn is fully-fleshed and more than capable of standing on it’s own two feet. Reading more like a classic fairy-tale, Spin the Dawn is a unique fantasy novel steeped in tradition and folk lore.
All it takes takes is one swift glance at the beautiful cover illustrations to realize that Spin the Dawn is heavily influenced by Chinese culture. The world building, the themes of honor and family paired with the lyrical, almost sensory prose were very reminiscent of the opulence of the orient. Then there’s the source material and inspiration itself. Elizabeth Lim expertly waves the skeletons of the Ballard of Mulan, Donkeyskin, the Cowherd and the Weaver and East of the Sun, West of the Moon to create a dense and complex story for us to savor.
At the heart of this modern fairy-tale is our head strong protagonist, Maia. Maia, dedicated to her family, armed with her wit, a needle and a magical heirloom instead of a sword is a determined seamstress. Can I just say how refreshing is was to read her perspective. She’s a craftswoman with a strong moral compass in what could only be described as a man’s world. That and the fact that I am obsessed with the idea of working as a seamstress in a fantasy world [Dragonskin Slippers or Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper anyone???].
Spin the Dawn is told in two distinct parts; the trial and the journey. The competition had me completely hooked from the first page but when the quest began I found myself slightly disillusioned and less engaged with the plot. As soon as our protagonist Maia stepped foot in the Summer Palace disguised as her brother court intrigue, politics and delicious conflict ensues. And there’s a lot going on behind the scenes too; war, arranged marriages and a potential invasion. The stakes are high, the competition cutthroat and I was so here for the tense, almost pliable atmosphere.
Unfortunately though, when Maia’s seemingly hopeless quest to sew the enchanted dresses began the tension fizzled out and the action fell a little flat. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good fantasy quest. You know, the hero’s journey and all. I was so geared up to explore the rich tapestry that Elizabeth Lim had laid out but it all just seemed so rushed. There was a lot of telling and not enough showing which isolates the reader from the conflict.
That being said. the quest did allow for a swoon-inducing romantic subplot. Let me tell you – the love interest is mysterious and adorable and I lived for their playful banter.
One thing I need to mention quickly is that I got some serious Empire of Storms and a Torch Against the Night vibes when Maia met Orksan and the Balardan travelers on the road. This was probably the one sub-plot that kept me entertained during the journey. I don’t know why but I just loved a good gypsy sub-plot??? Ale around the campfire, living off the land, the dangers of the road, bandits… need I go on? Then there was this sense of community… It reminded me of Elide and Lorcan travelling with the caravan and Elias and Laia with the tribesmen.
Flaws aside, Spin the Dawn is an exciting new fantasy series and I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel, Unravel the Dusk. Lush and whimsical, Spin the Dawn is a nostalgic novel, reminiscent of a lost imperial culture and of classic folk lore. Even if the second half dropped the ball a little, I’d still recommend Spin the Dawn for it’s sweeping oriental feel and magical vibe.