Book Reviews

Book Review: Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Genre : YA Fantasy / Romance
Date Published : July 9, 2019

Publisher : Knopf Books for Young Readers

Hello! This week I’m trying out a slightly different review format. Writing book synopses always gives me major anxiety, so this week I’m starting out with the synopsis provided by the publisher, then jumping straight into my review!

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.

This book was a delight to read. It is beautifully written, inventive, and so lush – when I was reading, I felt like I was awash in the vibrant colors, fabrics, and magic that Lim fills this book with. While at times I had a hard time staying invested in the story, I found myself thinking that if I was younger I probably would have liked it a lot more. But overall, it was an enjoyable and gorgeous read.

I really love how much time Lim spends on introducing us to Maia’s family and home life. This is so central to who Maia is as a character, and it really helped me understand who she was and why she was so motivated to become the imperial tailor. Maia is also just a great MC – she’s passionate and determined, but also very much a regular teenage girl, and I loved the balance of this throughout the book. She felt like such a real character, and it was wonderful watching her grow!

I also LOVED Edan and Lady Sarnai, and I’m very excited to see them fleshed out a bit more in the sequel! Edan went from being the snarky sorcerer to the charming love interest in the blink of an eye, and even though there’s a 500+ year age difference, it somehow works. Lady Sarnai has a lot of room to grow in the sequel, and I can’t wait for Lim to give us a closer look into Lady Sarnai’s magic-impervious mind! Edan and Lady Sarnai’s (very different) approaches to magic were very exciting to read, and I’m intrigued to see where Maia ends up falling on the Is Magic Good or Bad? spectrum in the next book.

In addition to the characters, I also just really adored the plot – I am a SUCKER for Project Runway, and so having the first half of the book consist of a series of high-stakes design challenges was so delightful! There is a slight disconnect between the first half of the book (the design challenges) and the second half (the quest for the sun, moon, and stars), but overall these choices kept the plot moving forward and the story interesting! There were also some very unexpected plot twists towards the end that made me very excited for the next book – I can’t wait to see what happens next with Maia (and Edan!!).

As much as I enjoyed Spin the Dawn, there were two major things in the book that I found a bit off-putting:

  1. Maia posing as a boy. I am a HUGE FAN on cross-dressing tropes (especially in historical fiction). But – and this may just be me – I am always severely disappointed when there is zero romantic tension caused by said cross-dressing. Spin the Dawn doesn’t shy away from sex/romance, which is why I was so disappointed that there was not an ounce of sexual tension between her or another character while she was posing as Keton. (There is a very brief moment with a maid, but she doesn’t play a major role and it’s played off as a silly interaction). If you’re going to have your MC cross-dress, at least play around with sexuality? A lil bit? Instead of Maia’s relationships becoming more interesting/complex because of her cross-dressing, the book seemed to just reinforce heteronormativity and it left me feeling a bit disappointed.
  2. Maia pretending to have a disability. This was a major yikes for me. It didn’t seem necessary to the plot or characters. This left a bad taste in my mouth throughout the story, and I wish it hadn’t been there at all.

Overall, Spin the Dawn is a strong first book. I hope, going forward, Lim does more interesting things with Maia’s crossdressing and does something to address the cringe-worthy ableism. But, ultimately, I think Elizabeth Lim has a really creative world and interesting set of characters, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us in the sequel, Unravel the Dusk.

My rating:

7 “Make it Work” Moments out of 10

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