Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
Expected Publication: 9th July 2019 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy
Format: kindle, ARC
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.
Aside from being a page turner with just the right amount of romance, culture and action, Spin the Dawn is also a story that evolves from one part to another. This book isn’t simply a story about a girl going through challenges to reach a goal, it’s about a girl going through challenges to reach multiple goals and I am greatly appreciative of how this story has been executed. The writing is convincing and I could easily imagine myself in Maia’s shoes. I really liked the ending of the earlier version of the ARC I read. Sure, it was a little too neat—too ‘happily ever after’ despite other parts, but I think that it was deserved. Though, I’m not saying that I don’t like the ending in the finalized version of the ARC. I find it more realistic and it had a stronger impact on me compared to the previous version.
Also, I find the visual imagery Lim has woven into this tale gorgeous. This is one of my favorite excerpts:
That aside, despite the convincing and beautiful writing, I find the world building a little poor. I got so confused imagining the world even with the help of the illustrated map because my initial (and continued) impression of A’landi, the country Maia resides in, is that it’s a fictional version/variation of China despite it’s not Chinese-sounding name. Which means I pictured the large majority of society to be of Chinese descent—that the culture and religion and everything else to be Chinese in any way and degree. Instead, A’landi through the eyes of Maia appears to be teetering between a melting pot of sorts and a fictional Chinese land.
Now, I’m not saying that this notion of it being a melting pot isn’t great. It allows the book to be of greater diversity and it has the potential to provide many various layers of complexity into a story (such as conflicting religious views, conflicting cultural upbringings and more). As a Malaysian Chinese, I can actually picture how A’landi as a melting pot would look like, and how characters whose physical appearances are not or only minimally described, would look like from their name. Unfortunately, names here are confusing, making it difficult for me to have a concrete image of the Spin the Dawn world.
Before I continue, please understand that this opinion is coming from someone who didn’t read the entirety of the book synopsis before getting a copy (the first paragraph was already enough to convince me!). This means that I wasn’t aware of Maia’s name, much less her full name. You see, I believe names in stories identify specific individuals and things, and they are inextricably linked to their identities. A name can make or break something, especially when little to no other description is given regarding that something.
So, when you combine that lack of knowing plus the fact that I’ve already pictured A’landi as a fictional Chinese land. That before I’ve even read the book, I’ve already pictured Maia as Chinese because the blurb mentions Mulan and the cover art shows a pale Asian. This resulted in my confusion when I learnt of the names. According to the internet, Maia is of Hebrew origin. Her last name ‘Tamarin’ is also of Hebrew origin whereas the names of her brothers (Finlei [Gaelic], Keton [Canadian], and Sendo [Japanese, American, Scottish or English]) are of other origins. They don’t sound or feel like they belong beside ‘baba’ and ‘mama’ which I read in Mandarin, and they do conflict a little with the “feeling” I get from Chinese culture. Moreover, it’s gets all the more confusing when you consider the names of other A’landi locals such as Emperor Khanujin and Calu, Lady Sarnai and the shansen.
This conflict aside, I find myself in love with a lot of aspects in this book—like how it’s more Mulan than Project Runaway, and how I can relate so well with Maia because of cultural similarities. She’s not a weak, damsel in distress waiting to be saved by others, though she’s not afraid to need help as well. She gets stronger as the story progresses, and I enjoy seeing her character develop. Besides that, I caught many allusions, references and more to other legends, myths and fairy tales and figuring out which was which made reading this book all the more fun.
In some ways, Spin the Dawn is the kind of fairy tale-like story I wish I read about while growing up. Not because Maia is a hundred percent the kind of person I’d like my younger self to grow up becoming like (she’s great, don’t get me wrong!), but because my younger self and perhaps others like me, desperately needed to see that being Asian—that being all that I am, is not ‘lame’. That although we don’t often see ourselves represented in Hollywood, every inch of us is just as beautiful and desired and we don’t need to lose any part of our identity just to be ‘better’ or more ‘accepted’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.
For the book tour, the generous Knopf Books for Young Readers has decided to give away the published, hardcover copies of Spin the Dawn to three (3) lucky winners!
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