Spin the Dawn
By Elizabeth Lim
Published July 9, 2019 by Alfred K. Knopf Books for Young Readers
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.
Spin the Dawn is a really fun young adult fantasy. It’s a Chinese-inspired tale about a young woman who’s determined to find her own destiny. Maia wants to be a master tailor, but because she is a woman, she thinks her dream can’t come true. But when her ill father is called to the imperial court to compete to become the emperor’s tailor, Maia disguises herself as her younger brother and goes to compete in her father’s place.
It’s an impulsive decision, and although Maia is a very talented tailor, she’s not ready for the cutthroat competition. She ends up being forced to make dresses for the emperor’s bride-to-be from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars, which leads her on an epic journey.
I really enjoyed this book. It contains a number of familiar fairytale/fantasy/mythology tropes (a girl disguising herself as a boy, a princess inventing impossible tasks to fend off a suitor, an epic journey, forbidden love), but the author uses them in new ways. The plot never felt predictable, and it takes an interesting turn around the 40% mark.
Maia is a strong character. She finds a way to achieve her dream, and it’s entertaining to watch her try to compete to become the imperial tailor, as she realizes that talent alone may not be enough. I also thought Lady Sarnai, the emperor’s reluctant fiancee, was a fascinating character, and I would love to know more about her. I wasn’t as interested in the romance, but the trope of a young girl and a much older supernatural being isn’t my favorite. There’s going to be a sequel, and I’m very interested to see where the story goes.
I received an ARC from the publisher through Amazon Vine.