Having read some of my friend’s raving reviews about Spin The Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, I knew before going in that I would love this book. What I didn’t expect was to fall head over heels for this story, and finish all 400 pages in one night.
But that’s the magic of Spin The Dawn for you. Enchantingly beautiful and indulgent, Spin The Dawn is essentially a Young Adult fairy tale that will sweep you off your feet.
On the fringes of the Great Spice Road, 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. Then a royal messenger summons her ailing father to court, and Maia seizes her chance. Disguised as a man, she travels to the Summer Palace in her father’s place to compete for the emperor’s favour, and the coveted position of imperial tailor.
If Maia’s ruse is discovered, her life will be forfeit. But if she wins, she will achieve her greatest dream.
Yet nothing could have prepared her for the challenge ahead: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s bride-to-be. One from the laughter of the sun, one from the tears of the moon, and one from the blood of stars.
Accompanied by the mysterious court enchanter, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise, Maia’s journey will take her to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.
Trigger Warnings: physical violence, magical violence, death, death of loved one (mentions), the threat of sexual assault, sex scene (not explicit)
Ratings: 5 out of 5
Recommended Age Group: 15+
There is so much to love about Spin The Dawn. From its stunningly vivid Asian-inspired fantasy world, intriguing main characters, and a page-turning plot, reading Spin The Dawn felt like reading a beloved fairy tale that has been expanded and made a bit more mature with its themes of individuality, feminism, and romance. Read on below for the full review and reasons you should pick up this book; or just read the quick TL;DR version here.
1. A New Spin On Classic Fantasy Tropes
The novel is pitched as “Project Runway Meets Mulan”, and I couldn’t agree more. One would think that the two concepts would be bound to clash, but Elizabeth Lim turns it into the most compelling story I have ever read.
At first, the novel begins the easy way: a young, ordinary but talented girl named Maya is forced to leave her obscure life behind to protect her family by winning a competition to become the Royal Tailor. But there’s a catch; women are not allowed to have such occupations, so she must pretend to be a boy.
And somehow during the events of the competition, Maya soon discovers that she is no ordinary tailor with a talent with the needle, and finds herself embarking on a quest to retrieve three impossible objects that could mean life or death for her and her family.
A bit cheesy, with the typical three-act structure and full of your usual fantasy tropes, but because Spin The Dawn is written essentially as a fairy tale, it actually works. That, and the fact that Lim raises the stakes for her main characters in each adventure in unexpected ways, makes the plot of Spin The Dawn refreshingly new and unique in its own right.
2. Gorgeous Prose And Vivid World-Building
For me, a good fantasy novel must have a captivating narration style to keep me turning the pages, and excellent world-building so I can truly immerse myself in the story. After all, the whole point of reading fantasy is to discover new worlds that would not exist in reality, am I right?
Elizabeth Lim does exactly that in Spin The Dawn, the first book in her The Blood Of Stars duology. She masterfully crafts a gorgeous, vivid, and vibrant fantasy world set in East Asia, and throughout the whole book, she made me wish to stay in that world a bit longer. The imagery in her book made her adventures of Maya seem so much more thrilling and made me feel like I was a part of her journey.
Now counter that with Elizabeth Lim’s beautiful prose and yet simple storytelling style, and you have an excellent fantasy book that is at once easy to read while also being truly immersive. There is this enchanting and whimsical vibe to her narration style, which reminded me of all the fairy tales I grew up reading. At the same time, the dialogues and the writing were endearingly simple, which made it easy for me to go through the whole book in one sitting.
3. Strong, Intriguing Characters With Compelling Arcs
The main characters of this novel, Maya and the court enchanter Eden, are truly the heart and spirit of the series. Both of these characters are so incredibly loveable, relatable, and intriguing, that you cannot help but want to know what comes next for them.
Maya starts out like any other protagonist in your usual fairy tales. She is naive, fiercely protective of her family and a little immature at first, having lived a very sheltered life. But what makes her so endearing is her fiery ambition to prove her worth. Even though she claims to enter the competition to become a Royal Tailor to provide for her family, the truth is that she also does it for personal gain; she wants to prove to the world that women too can be talented tailors and deserve to be recognized for their skills.
It’s always good to see heroines go above and beyond not just for love or family or loyalty towards their country, but also in pursuit of their individual and personal ambitions. Strong women in literature are often stereotyped to be completely self-sacrificing, so it was refreshing to see a protagonist who not only owned her individuality but actively shaped her destiny.
On the other hand, Eden is unlike any other love interest I have read about in most fairy tales. He is honestly one of my favorite fictional crushes now. Kind, supportive, and respectful, Eden is protective of Maya without seeming overbearing, and while we often see him take on the role of caretaker and guide, he never interferes with Maya’s attempts to overcome the challenges she faces throughout the novel.
4. A Beautiful Swoon-worthy Romance
Romance is a central theme in the novel. Elizabeth Lim builds the love story from the ground up very very slowly. It was amazing to see two strangers gradually move from being mere acquaintances to friends and finally to lovers. You get to see and enjoy Maya and Eden slowly learning to respect and care for each other before falling in love. And I loved every minute of their slow-burn romance.
Another reason why this slow and gradual build-up was a great idea, is because of the obvious difference in power dynamics between Eden and Maya. The classic trope of forbidden love between an old immortal man and a young mortal woman is at play here, so it was necessary to see that despite the obvious difference in power dynamics, Eden sees and treats Maya as his equal in their relationship.
5. Clever And Subtle References To Chinese Folklore
While I do not have much knowledge about Chinese folklore and culture, it was still very easy for me to see and notice the influences and references to Chinese culture and mythology in Spin The Dawn. From the world-building, the social norms, clothing and attire, and the quests for acquiring the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars–it all seemed to be inspired by many different Chinese myths and traditions.
This made me love Spin The Dawn even more. Although I couldn’t particularly relate to these subtle nods and references, as someone who grew up not only reading Bengali fairytales but also Russian, Korean, and Japanese folklore, I loved reading a book that also drew inspiration from cultures unfamiliar to me.
Things I Did Not Like About Spin The Dawn
There are very few things I did not like about this book but for the sake of being fair, a few things did stand out to me that I felt were lacking.
The themes of feminism are barely touched upon. While I don’t quite mind this, because Spin The Dawn felt more like a beautiful but ultimately light-hearted fairy tale, there were definitely a lot of missed opportunities where Elizabeth Lim could have explored feminism in a more subtle manner. Especially with characters like Lady Sarnai, who throughout the novel struggles to reclaim her agency in a society where men get the final say. And even with Maya herself; after all, the sole reason why she aspires to be the Royal Tailor is to prove to the world that women deserve such recognition too; and yet we never quite see her wanting to pave the way for other women like her.
There is also very little questioning of gender norms and particularly gender-based dress codes, which I thought was a very big missed opportunity considering the huge focus on fashion and clothing in the novel.
Quick Review: Spin The Dawn By Elizabeth Lim
To sum it up, here are five reasons why you should read Spin The Dawn by Elizabeth Lim:
~ A compelling plot that takes a new spin on classic fantasy tropes.
~ A vividly beautiful, immersive, Asian-inspired fantasy world.
~ Amazing, intriguing strong main characters.
~ Clever references to Chinese culture, myth, and folklore.
~ A heartfelt, swoon-worthy romance
Loved Spin The Dawn? Let me know what you think of this book in the comments below.
Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. All thoughts are completely my own. Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder And Stoughton for giving me this book.
Don’t forget to check out reviews from other talented bloggers who have read this book! 👇
CW from The Quiet Pond: Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim – A Romantic Fantasy About Celestial Dresses, Forbidden Love, and A Life-Changing Quest
Sophia from Bookwyrming Thoughts: spin the dawn by elizabeth lim | weaving magic and fashion
~ More From Elizabeth Lim ~
Check out my review of the second book in the Blood Of Stars duology: Unravel The Dusk by Elizabeth Lim.