Much like how her protagonist spins the dawn, Elizabeth Lim spins an equally enchanting tale in her magical debut. Aptly described as a cross between Mulan and Project Runway, Spin the Dawn marries magic and couture, with a stitch of subterfuge.
Maia Tamarin has longed for repute as a tailor, for despite her prowess with needle and cloth, a woman in A’landi can only hope to marry well. Behind the scenes in her father’s shop, she works as a seamstress and mends the crippled quality of her father’s tailoring, his former renowned skills sullied by growing indifference. When the emperor summons him to compete for the spot of the Imperial Tailor, Maia knows her father, frail with age and an aching heart that won’t heal, wouldn’t survive the journey, let alone the strain of the position. To fulfill the emperor’s demands and her own vocations, Maia disguises herself as a man and enters the trial as her father’s son. As the competition heats up and tensions flare, Maia’s given an ultimatum: craft three dresses made of the sun, moon, and stars or risk losing the only family she has left.
I initially approached this novel with an air of skepticism, for I feared the plot wouldn’t have enough substance. Just as quickly as that apprehension developed, however, this book showed me how sorely I’d misjudged. Spin the Dawn transcends mere garment making and glory; instead, it enraptures with a multifaceted quest, the favorable and punitive elements of magic, and the strength of romantic and familial bonds.
Lim fashions such a unique plot and riveting quest within Spin the Dawn. Despite the inspiration and reminiscence from Mulan, as well as bits from other such fairy tales, the originality shines through and propels readers on a journey that feels wholly new. From Maia’s ventures themselves to the magic system she comes to know, this novel dismantles expectations. The magic system, albeit not entirely dissimilar from other fantasy stories, capitalizes on the double-edge nature of magic. Rather than the distinction of either good or bad, Lim portrays magic more ambiguously as both good and bad in equal measure, a blessing and a curse. A boon rife with ramifications, even when used with good intentions. This give-and-take component contributes not only a differential edge to the plot, but also a fascinating obstacle for the characters to grapple with. And this challenge, alongside others they face, only makes the characters that much more compelling.
Even amidst peril and harrowing hurdles, Maia is a noble character that would do the impossible for the welfare of those she loves; however, at the same time, Maia struggles with wanting to do things on her own merits. Both these facets fuel her decisions and really liven her character for readers. Spin the Dawn’s other characters possess a similar vivaciousness, even those who are only briefly present or not at all; Lim’s deceased characters, despite only learning of them from flashbacks and Maia’s memory, felt real and were equally fundamental to the story.
As the first in a duology, with a cliffhanger ending and a lot of loose threads, readers will be on pins and needles waiting for the conclusion.