I am so excited to share my review of Spin the Dawn with you all today, friends.
Spin the Dawn is a book that I have looked forward to for months now – ever since I heard of it, I knew I had to read this and I knew I would love this. When I saw the book cover, illustrated by the amazing Tran Nyugen, my love for this book only deepened. Thus, it’s with immense pleasure that I get the chance to share my review of this book with you all! I loved this book and have so many feelings about it (which will be apparent in my review below!) and I am so excited for you to delve into the world of Spin the Dawn and embark on an incredible journey with the amazing protagonist, Maia.
I was given the opportunity to be part of the Spin the Dawn Blog Tour hosted and organised by my incredible friend and blogger powerhouse, Shealea from Shut Up, Shealea and Caffeine Book Tours. Shealea works so tirelessly for book bloggers, and this incredible blog tour is just one example of the amazing work that she does. I also want to thank Elizabeth Lim, for writing this gem of a book and for giving us Asian readers a Chinese YA fantasy that we all dreamed and wanted. Lastly, thank you to the publishers, for providing me with an eARC of Spin the Dawn.
I received a review copy from the publisher as part of the blog tour. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
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.
I’m amazed, friends. I was so excited for Spin the Dawn and yet, this book surpassed all expectations that I had, and now I’m left feeling pleasantly and excitedly surprised. Set in the Asian-inspired world, Spin the Dawn tells the story of Maia, the daughter of a tailor who disguises herself as her brother to compete to become the Emperor’s court tailor. To save her life and ensure peace in her kingdom, Maia is then given a test to make three dresses to symbolise the goddess Amana’s children: the sun, the moon, and the stars. This splendid story is brimmed with magic, wonder, the aches of love and the choices we make, and best of all (to me): forbidden love.
An unexpectedly compelling story – from Project Runway to a quest of life and death
The story begins with Maia, who lives in a sleepy and poor village by the port with her father and brother. Following royal court summons, Maia is whisked off to the palace, where she will have to compete with tailors from across the kingdom for the prestigious position of the royal court tailor. Thus, the story begins with Maia having to tackle a variety of challenges where she has to design and create clothes for Lady Sarnai, the unimpressed daughter of the enemy kingdom who is to wed the emperor to ensure peace following war between the two kingdoms.
At first, I thought the story would only delve into the challenges (and to be honest, I wouldn’t have minded that because I found the challenges exciting, interesting, and I loved seeing how Maia would tackle and overcome each complicated design). The ‘Project Runway’ part of the book is the Part One, which I found to be a promising arc and ended with a good twist that made Part Two all the more exciting and compelling. However, what I loved about Spin the Dawn was that it may use the same formula and structure in such stories, but the stakes were raised each other in ways that I didn’t anticipate. Reading Spin the Dawn, then, was such a (at first) fun and (later) emotional journey that was easy to read but meaningful in its pacing and developments.
Steeped in subtle Chinese culture and influences
One of the allures of reading Spin the Dawn was being able to read a YA fantasy that has distinct Chinese references to culture, mythology, and folktale. Though, to my knowledge, it isn’t a direct reference or retelling of any specific story (it is barely the same as Mulan; the only resemblance being that she disguises herself as her a male family member to save their life and for filial piety), it was delightful seeing so many subtle nods to a variety of stories that triggered very specific but fractured memories in my childhood. You see, when I was a kid, my grandparents bought my sibling and I these very big illustrated books of a variety of Chinese myths. I don’t know where the books are anymore, but reading those books were very precious to me. However, reading Spin the Dawn, I actually… remembered some of the stories. This was a precious gift that Spin the Dawn and Lim could have given me, which is why I’ll always advocate for more Asian literature written by Asian authors.
I loved seeing the small nods to a variety of mythology and folktales. I don’t know if I am correct or whether it was Lim’s imagination, but most prominent to me was how the ‘blood of the stars’ myth within Spin the Dawn was reminiscent of the Qixi Festival, one of my favourite folktales. The meeting of the sun and the moon, who are lovers, reminded me so much of the bittersweet love story between cowherd and the weaver girl, and how they only get to meet once a year because a bridge forms between them, allowing them to meet in person for one night. Furthermore, the test for the laughter of the sun in Spin the Dawn reminded me of the Chinese sun and moon mirrors, which are referenced across the Chinese classics, and how the legend of the god of thieves in Spin the Dawn reminded me of Hou Yi, a mythological archer who shot down the suns. Moreover, the Summer Palace! Lim’s imagery of the Summer Palace evoked such a strong memory of the real Summer Palace in China, a place I visited when I was only 10 years old. It was my favourite part of my visit to China, so you can imagine why reading this book made me feel warm, content, and a little nostalgic.
Whatever the stories truly reference or whether they are from Lim’s imagination, I really enjoyed seeing these small snippets of stories from my childhood in Spin the Dawn. The mythology within the Spin the Dawn is seamlessly integrated into Maia’s quest and the three impossible tasks that she has to complete. The imagery that these stories evoke – seeing Chinese folktales within Spin the Dawn and its effect in worldbuilding within the story – was rewarding, lovely, and a delightful treat for me.
A heartfelt yet heart-aching romance
I have a very strange relationship with romance in books. I appreciate it immensely as a genre, but I generally don’t particularly enjoy romances in books, particularly when the love interest feels like they have been shoe-horned into a story for the added romantic dimension (that would otherwise work excellently without them). However, I really enjoyed the romance in this story; the romance between Maia and Edan, the mysterious Enchanter, was tender, wonderful, and so well developed with a slow-burn that had me holding my breath and hoping for their love to grow, grow, grow.
On the surface, Maia and Edan are very different: Maia is from a poor village and wants nothing more than to pursue her dream of becoming one of the world’s greatest tailors (and to be recognised for it!) whilst Edan is an Enchanter, bound to oaths that he cannot escape and is as mysterious yet so charming. Both have different goals and motivations, but their story and lives converge together when they realise the best parts of themselves are brought out when they are together. Their connection to each other grows at a steady and organic pace.
In addition, I am absolutely hopeless when it comes to forbidden romances and star-crossed lovers who want nothing more than to live a simple and happy life with each other, only for the oppressive circumstances and the immense weight of their responsibilities to pull them away and question the cost of love and what makes life worth living. Put simply: I adored Maia and Edan.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
Frankly, I loved Spin the Dawn and I’m so excited for you all to read it. This is a book that delivers on its promises, and even manages to weave in a surprise here and there to keep you engaged. Lim has grown immensely as a writer since her debut book, Reflections, and I think many would agree with me when I say this: Spin the Dawn is a stunning achievement.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A girl disguises herself as a brother to compete to be the Emperor’s tailor.
Perfect for: readers who love Chinese YA fantasies; readers who love forbidden romances; readers who love stories with a strong emphasis on the romance.
Think twice if: you’re not interested in reading a story centered on a romantic relationship.
Genre: young adult, fantasy, romance
Trigger/content warning: death, murder, alcohol consumption, fantasy violence, threat of sexual assault.
Xiaolong’s New Clothes!
After making my Xiaolong plushie (which I really enjoyed making, and you can find all my photos with her on my bookstagram!), I realised that I actually really enjoyed sewing and just… creating something that is tangible and I can feel with my hands.
Coincidentally, after reading Spin the Dawn, I felt incredibly inspired by Maia and her sewing ability, as well as her determination and her perseverance despite facing tough and seemingly impossible challenges.
Therefore, I decided to follow in Maia’s footsteps and sew something to celebrate Spin the Dawn and this wonderful blog tour! As Spin the Dawn is Chinese-inspired, it only felt right that I would sew something that is a little close to home and that was in the spirit of Spin the Dawn.
I decided to make Xiaolong some clothes! 💛 And not just any clothes. I decided to make her a little traditional Chinese dress called hanfu.
I actually had the honour of wearing one for the first time last year (big big thanks to Michelle for bringing up a set for me to try!!) and I just loved it. I’m aiming to save for my very own, but for now… I wanted Xiaolong to have her very own hanfu.
It may not be entirely accurate, but I’m really happy with how it turned out! It was really fun to make this (I am still very slow at sewing), and I hope to make her some more clothes in the future! 😊
About Elizabeth Lim
Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, “Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that’s kinda cool!” But after one of her teachers told her she had “too much voice” in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English.
Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel — for kicks, at first, then things became serious — and she hasn’t looked back since.
Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.
Blog tour stops!
July 01 (Monday)
- Blog tour launch (from Shut up, Shealea)
July 02 (Tuesday)
- Review, creative feature post, and aesthetics/moodboard from Book Freak Revelations
- Review from Happy Indulgence Books
- Review from READING (AS)(I)AN AMERICA
- Review, creative photos, excerpt and favorite quotes from Snow White Hates Apples
- Review and creative photos from Star is All Booked Up
July 03 (Wednesday)
- Review, favorite quotes, and own playlist from BookwyrmBites
- Review and aesthetics/moodboard from Holed Up In A Book
- Review and aesthetics/moodboard from Librae Paints Pages
- Review, aesthetics/moodboard, creative feature post, excerpt and favorite quotes from mybookcastle
- Review, own art, and own quote graphics from The Sparrow’s Perch
July 04 (Thursday)
- Review, creative photos, excerpt and own graphics from Artsy Draft
- Review, excerpt and favorite quotes from Caitlin Althea
- Review from Literaery Adventures
- Review and favorite quotes from Moonlight Pages
- Review and aesthetics/moodboard from Read By Tiffany
July 05 (Friday)
- Review, creative feature post, and own quote graphics from Beyond Secret Pages
- Review, aesthetics/moodboard, creative feature post, and own quote graphics from Crowing About Books
- Review, aesthetics/moodboard, creative photos, and own quote graphics from Lyrical Reads
- Review, creative photos, excerpt, and own quote graphics from String of Pages
- Review and own quote graphics from Utopia State of Mind
July 06 (Saturday)
- Review, creative photos, and own quote graphics from Hana Book Review
- Review, aesthetics/moodboard, creative feature post, and own quote graphics from Phantom Paper
- Review, excerpt, favorite quotes, and own art from R E A (D) I V I N E
- Review, creative feature post, and creative photos from Unputdownable Books
- Review from Wavy Pages
July 07 (Sunday)
- Review, aesthetics/moodboard, creative photos, and favorite quotes from Forever and Everly
- Review and own art from The Quiet Pond
- Review and own art from Read at Midnight
- Review, own art, and own quote graphics from The Ultimate Fangirl
- Review, aesthetics/moodboard, creative feature post, creative photos, and favorite quotes from Your Tita Kate
- #CBTTC Twitter chat hosted by @CaffeineTours
- 10:00 AM Eastern Standard Time (EST)
- 9:00 PM Philippine Time
Before all of you leave, don’t forget that there is currently a blog tour giveaway! Five lucky US-based winners will win a copy of Spin the Dawn, so be sure to enter here!
Friends, I loved reading this book and loved writing this review even more so. I hope you enjoyed reading it! I also hope you enjoyed the little hanfu I made for Xiaolong – it was really fun to make (and very different to making a plushie!) and I had so much fun.
- Are you looking forward to Spin the Dawn? What are you most excited about?
- Have you read Spin the Dawn? What did you think?
- Do you love forbidden romances? Why or why not?