[A few notes Before my review: I’ve been on FIRE this week. I finished multiple books. Woot woot! Sometimes I go through book-devouring phases. I’m currently in one of those. This bookstagram photo was fun to stage because I used my custom made Chinese Qipao that a friend had specially tailored for me in China on a trip, made with real Chinese silk. It fits like a glove. It was made by a Chinese Tailor! And this story is about...you guessed it! A tailor! So it seemed the perfect prop to add. Now, I want to start by saying, why did I wait so long to review this book?! It was on my TBR for way too long. I didn’t get the motivation to read it until I saw the second coming out (and got approved to review it). That lit a fire in me. I love a book packed with amazing quotes. This one did not disappoint. I made sure to sprinkle some of my favorites throughout this review. I will be posting the review for Unravel the Dusk in a few days. It doesn’t launch till July 7th. Spin the Dawn and Unravel the Dusk is a dualogy. So, let’s dive in!]
(4.5/5⭐️) “You will hold the seams of our family together, Maia. No other tailor in the world can do that.”
This poetic tale is a coming-into-one’s-own story of a girl who doesn’t let the world dictate what she can and can’t do. Maia is the only daughter of a once renowned tailor summoned to the Summer Palace by the emperor of A’landi. Her father is too old to answer the summons. Maia would go in his stead, but women aren’t allowed to be tailors, let alone “Master Tailor” even though she can sew better than every man alive. To everyone else, her purpose in life is to marry well. Maia knows she’s meant for much, much more. Her two eldest brothers died fighting in the war that wracked A’landi, and her youngest brother lost the use of his legs in that same war, so he can’t answer the emperor’s summons either. Maia is the only one. She makes the decision to chop off her hair and pose as a boy. She answers the summons as “Master Tamarin.” When she arrives at the Summer Palace, she finds that she is pitted against other master tailors in a competition for the position of imperial tailor to the emperor. She must fight her way through difficult tasks set before her without letting her secret be known. But someone sees right through her. The emperor’s Lord Enchanter, Edan, knows who and what she is. He takes an interest in her because she is not all that she seems. Even once she proves herself to the emperor, she must then show that she can create three dresses of legend for the emperor’s bride-to-be using the laughter of the sun, tears of the moon, and blood of the stars. If she cannot complete these three dresses in time, the emperor will not marry his bride, and her country will not see peace.
Elizabeth Lim’s writing is rich with Asian inspiration. From the Mulan-esk circumstances that have Maia posing as a boy to take her father’s place, to the various palaces occupied by the emperor, to the culture and folklore inherent to A’landi’s people. It was so refreshing to read a fantasy of this kind. The world building drove me deep into the story and kept me reading on a path of enchantment and discovery.
Maia’s story is made of two differing halves. Each half stitches together flawlessly to unite her journey of becoming A’landi’s imperial tailor. The first half is quite different from the second half. Yet, each half forces her down a path of self discovery. In the first half, she pushes her tailor skills to the limit and learns what her hands and creativity are capable of. In the second half, she conquers her heart, mind, and body which are pushed beyond imagining. For the second half, she is sent on a quest with Edan where she must gather the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars. It is a journey that will leave her irrevocably changed. But she will find love on this journey, and learn that such a love is worth sacrificing for.
“I want you to know that some journeys have ends, but not this one. This one will change you. Irrevocably." "Don't all journeys change you?" "It isn't the same." He leaned forward. "I, too, once journeyed beyond the stars." "What did you find?" His voice turned lethally soft. "That it's just the beginning.”
I read a lot of mixed reviews about this book. So I’d like to address some of them and give my two cents. From a broader standpoint, I adored the story. I can’t believe I waited so long to read it. Spin the Dawn is what I would call a “comfort read.” The stakes in the second half weren’t that high. Yet, I found myself captivated. I wanted to keep reading, to keep drinking in the blood of stars the way Edan did when he became an Enchanter. For those who complained that the stakes weren’t high enough: personally, I don’t need edge-of-your-seat anxiety inducing pearl for the duration of a book. I often enjoy relaxing and reading without having to hyperventilate every other chapter. This book fills that need for me.
Another complaint I saw was regarding Maia’s decision at the end of the book. Maia is given the opportunity to make a single wish. She could wish for anything. She could wish for her brother to walk again, or to restore her family’s happiness, to bring peace to A’landi, etc. Instead, she wishes to free Edan because she has fallen in love with him. Because he’s a slave to his fate. This comes at a huge price. Many reviewers argued that her wish was unrealistic and immature. Many were turned off by this aspect of the book. My argument is this: Maia is eighteen!!! Of course her wish is going to be love-driven and perhaps lacking in logic. But she’s EIGHTEEN!!!! For crying out loud, how many eighteen-year-olds do you know that are capable of making good decisions? I’m tired of people expecting young adults to make the same logic-based decisions that adults are expected to make. Imposing adult mentalities onto teenagers is completely unrealistic. Flawed characters are more enjoyable and more realistic. So please understand that. If I’m being completely honest, I liked her decision. It felt genuine. Sure, it would have been great for her brother to walk again, but having her brother walk again and losing Edan to a fate more terrible than death are two completely different things. I’ll end my rant there.
In terms of the writing, It was poetic.
“Above, the stars faded behind the misty sky, and the sun fanned its light upon us. We melted into each other until the dawn slid into dusk, and the sun paled into the moon, and the stars, once lost, became found again.”
I loved the way the theme of sewing was woven into the story, and worked into various metaphors. You could tell that the art of sewing was deeply ingrained in Maia, who she was as a person.
“I knew then that we were like two pieces of cloth, sewn together for life. Our stitches couldn't be undone. I wouldn't let them.”
I mean ^^^^^ How beautiful is that?! Sewing permeated Maia’s very being. She was believable as a character. I will say, she was (at times) a product of the plot. But I liked that she took life into her own hands.
“A girl isn't fit to be anything more than a prize.”
She didn’t just sit around and wait to be married off. She took control and posed as a boy to take the life she wanted. After that, she did what she needed to achieve the outcome she wanted. Her sense of honor was evident, too. She didn’t want to win her sewing competitions with magic. She wanted to win them with skill. Even if it meant risking a win, she preferred to sew without magic so that she could be truly proud of her creations. That created a depth of character that I appreciated. This sense of honor followed her through the book.
Edan’s character was somewhat predictable and didn’t have quite as much depth as Maia, but he wasn’t the MC so I’m not that concerned about that. However, this is ultimately why I’ve subtracted half a star. He is supposed to be five-hundred something years old. But sometimes he borders on “teenager” in the way he acts. However, I think that’s because we are seeing him from Maia’s point of view. Still, I think there could have been a bit more character development there.
Now for the mushy-gushy stuff. I loved the romance of this book. I loved Maia and Edan. Fantasy-romance is my favorite genre and I liked the time Edan and Maia spent together on her quest. It gave them time to develop over the course of a couple of months. Too often we see deep romances develop over a few pages, a few days, a few weeks. This was a development stretched over two months. That felt more real to me. Their romance turned out to be one of my favorite aspects of this book.
In closing, I loved the book so much that I pre-ordered the second one and bought the paperback of this version, even though I have the ebook. It’s a book I would read again...and again. I can truly say that I loved it. If you like fantasy inspired by unique cultures, a fresh take on Mulan, and gender-bending roles, you’ll definitely like this one.