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.
Warnings: physical violence (lashing), animal death
Spin the Dawn brings the story of a girl who wished to be celebrated as a master tailor. Because she is a girl, she won’t ever get that status, so when the Emperor calls for master tailors to participate in his contest, she goes in place of her brother. While there, the 12 tailors are tasked with challenges to impress the reluctant bride-to-be, and Maia, armed with a pair of magic scissors discovers that magic is real, and much more potent than she imagined. She is further tasked to create three wedding gowns for the princess, which would be from the myths of their kingdom, and to get the ingredients for those gowns, she would have to go on a perilous journey along the Silk Road and across the kingdom where she would be tested.
The comparisons to Mulan for this story seem premature, because aside from the cross-dressing in Chinese kingdom bit, it has nothing in common. It has, instead, more in common with Howl’s Moving Castle and One Thousand and One Nights, as the story contains many motifs and inspirations from them. Maia’s story can be divided into two parts – the contest and the quest, and they have different vibes in the story. While in the palace, Maia is competing against other master tailors, who aren’t above sabotage or using magic; Maia, meanwhile, is hesitant to use her magic scissors which make what she imagines the creation to be, possible. In the quest, however, the plot tones down the magic subplot and shifts to adventure and romance, and opens up the story with a fairytale touch, and sets up things for the next book.
I liked the magic system and the tone of the story; the writing was also beautiful enough that I was engrossed in the plot pretty quickly; the story foreshadows a lot and a bit more obviously, though, which worked against it, because it had so much to gain from its twists. The romance is cute – Edan and Maia have tons of chemistry, and the banter is adorable; Edan is basically immortal but he is the opposite of the brooding mage you would expect, and Maia’s exasperation with his flirting plays off well. However, as a romance, it didn’t entirely convince me, even though I liked their dynamic well enough. The pacing was a bit faster than to allow the whimsy to set in, but with the timeline, I guess it couldn’t be helped. The ending delivers a nice gut-punch of a climax, so the wait for the next book is sure to be a bit torturous.
Verdict: I loved the concept, world, and the storyline but the romance could have been written better.
Is it diverse? East Asian fantasy (#OwnVoices Chinese) with wholly PoC cultures
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Knopf Books for Young Readers, via Netgalley.
Releases on July 30, 2019