Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publish Date: 04 March 2021

Page Count: 416 pages

These stunning US and UK editions of Elizabeth Lim’s Asian-inspired YA novel Spin the Dawn have been stalking me on social media for a while now. When I noticed the book was still available on Netgalley, I requested a copy as motivation to jump into the series and see what all the fuss is about. 

It turned out to be a case of the right book at the right time. I loved it so much that I bought a special edition of The Blood of the Stars duology and pre-ordered Lim’s upcoming novel, Six Crimson Cranes.

“I want you to know that some journeys have ends, but not this one. This one will change you. Irrevocably”

Spin the Dawn is described as a cross between Mulan and Project Runway, which is spot on, at least at first. The story follows Maia Tamarin, the youngest child of a well-respected master tailor. As the Emperor’s war against the Shansen continues to unfold, Maia’s father takes ill, and her family faces increasing hardship.

When an Imperial Minister requests the services of Maia’s father at the Summer Palace, Maia poses as her brother, attending in place of her ailing father. When she arrives at court, she finds herself competing against eleven master tailors for the title of Imperial Tailor, and these crafty men aren’t above playing dirty. As she fights to keep her gender a secret, Maia is given increasingly impossible challenges set by the Emperor’s vengeful bride, eventually leading to an epic journey that could determine the fate of the Empire.

“I, too, once journeyed beyond the stars.” 

“What did you find?” 

His voice turned lethally soft. “That it’s just the beginning.”

The second part of the novel shakes up the format set by Maia’s tailoring competition and instead focuses on her travels to complete her quest, the details of which I found magical and beautiful. Maia’s journey expands the novel’s setting beyond clothing design and throws her together with Edan, the court magician, for better or worse. The story also turns unexpectedly dark (thematically; no trigger warnings I can recall), which took me entirely by surprise. I’m now really excited to read the second book in the duology and see where Lim takes Maia’s journey next.

Being a YA fantasy with a healthy dash of romance, Spin the Dawn might not be for everyone, but for me, it was like reliving the magic of reading my first Tamora Pierce books in my early teens. I tore through this almost 400-page novel in a day, something I don’t think I’ve ever done before.

A patchwork of thick, grey clouds drifted across the sky, the seams so tight I could barely see the light behind them.”

I was absorbed by Maia’s passion for tailoring and the vivid descriptions of her designs. The prose is beautiful, and I loved how Lim weaves it (pun intended) with allusions to Maia’s trade.

When I first started the book, I was worried that the worldbuilding detail was too light for my taste. But Maia’s journey expands the setting in exciting ways, and I particularly loved the mythology. However, Lim maintains a paired down, fairy-tale narrative voice which, for me, made the story all the more emotionally poignant.

The only thing that didn’t really work for me was how antagonistic Maia was towards Edan in the beginning. I thought he was charming and helpful, but she was so not into it. That said, I think the point was that Maia felt comfortable enough with him to treat him as if he were one of her three brothers.

Regardless, I’ve given this book a big old 5-star rating for the pure enjoyment it brought me. I can’t wait to read more of Lim’s work!

Big thank you to the publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger warnings: Sexism, death of family, bodily harm

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