Book: Spin The Dawn (The Blood of Stars #1)
Author: Elizabeth Lim
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Maia and Lady Sarnai have a brief discussion about her dresses.
Content Warnings: Ableism? (main character pretends to be disabled for a significant portion of the novel), hints of homophobia, mentions of alcoholism, death of parents and loved ones, mentions of war, sexual harrasment, spiders, violence
What’s this? A review? Of a book I read in 2020? I know, I know, it has been a while since my blog which ostensibly reviews books has had an actual book review on it. I had intended to catch up on reviews of books that I read in Cape Town, but I realised it was going to take me too long to catch up on all of those, so instead, I’m just going to start my reviews from now and do mini reviews for the books I read in Cape Town in my first #RockMyTBR Challenge Update of the year.
Anyway, Spin The Dawn was my #RockMyTBR book for March and I was really excited about it because I had heard such good things. Sadly, it seems like this was yet another victim of the hype monster. I enjoyed it, but found it somewhat underwhelming. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
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.
I loved the concept of this, it sounded really creative. Project Runway meets Mulan? It sounded brilliant. Sadly, it failed to fully live up to the potential promised in the blurb. For one thing, the Project Runway aspect? Lasted barely a third of the book. I was expecting a really cutthroat competition, with everyone putting up a real fight to win, but it seemed like our protagonist just breezed through. It’s a shame, because the tailoring aspect was something that made this book stand out and it didn’t seem to be utilized enough. Also Mulan? The only real similarity was that the protagonist dresses as a boy and the aim is to help her family.
The map at the start of the book was definitely a plus, I always love it when fantasy books have maps!
Nothing for Maia seemed to be a challenge at all. Obviously it’s a foregone conclusion how the story is going to work out, but you need to see your protagonist struggling at least a little and everything felt far too easy. The quest to find the sun, moon and stars which is supposedly so difficult that the people who have previously attempted it have died? No problem. The tailoring contest? A breeze. Sewing three impossible dresses? Easy. You get the picture, the entire plot relied on deus ex machinas and conveniences that meant nothing for Maia was ever a real challenge.
Despite that, I did like Maia initially. She was feisty, she really cared about her family, she was ambitious and wanted to win the competition so badly. I liked that she was stronger in different ways than your typical YA heroine. All that changed when the romance was introduced though, and once again, any semblance of her personality was absorbed into Edan.
Speaking of Edan, he had entirely no personality whatsoever. I am so done with YA romances being with completely bland boys. It’s so difficult to feel chemistry between characters when one of them seems to have hardly any personality at all. I’m also really done with the “hundreds of years old guy falls in love with teenage girl” trope, it’s no less icky, the ten thousandth time you read it as it was the first.
I did like the diverse world, it was great to have a world that is populated entirely by POC and I enjoyed the Chinese influences, though it did feel like they were very lightly done. I think this was a byproduct of the lack of world-building. We get some details about the world, the food, sewing techniques, that kind of thing, but I felt like there could have been a lot more.
For a fantasy, it’s also kind of magic lite, there are some hints of magic, but by and large, the magic is very little and it’s not really explained all that well.
This brings me to another issue with the world, as great as the racial diversity was, the world was incredibly hetero and cisnormative. It feels like an oversight for a novel published in 2019, which is using cross-dressing tropes, to not even explore the main character’s relationship with her gender or sexuality. There are even a few badly placed “no homo” jokes where Maia worries about being perceived as gay, which didn’t sit very well with me.
I also hated that Maia didn’t really have any significant female relationships. I don’t know if this is because she’s disguised as a boy for part of the book, but even then that comes back to male/female platonic relationships in books, even perceived ones, needing to be more of a thing. By nature of the story, Maia is the only one, the “exceptional” woman, but I would have loved it if we got to see her relationships with other women more.
The side characters were also really flat, which was a shame because they had the potential to be interesting. Lady Sarnai in particular, we don’t really get to see her motivations as the book is in Maia’s POV, but I was really interested in her and how she happens to be impervious to Edan’s magic and I would have liked that to be explored more. I also felt like this book was really lacking in a villain, we get a couple of villain-like characters but no one that felt like that really posed a threat.
The second part of the book felt like a completely different story to the first and third parts. I think the author just took on too much with this story, a sewing contest to become the imperial tailor and the quest to retrieve the sun, moon and stars, could have been two separate stories. It managed the strange feat of feeling like it was too crammed and also feeling slow paced at the same time!
The ending was my absolute biggest bug bear with the book though. I can’t really say why because it would be massively spoilery, but it was a real let down and felt kind of redundant because the main character made a really stupid decision that really didn’t achieve what she wanted it to and it seemed like she could have used her choice so much better!
Overall, this book could have been really fantastic but it just failed to reach it’s full potential. Yes, the cool concept was there, but it tried to do way too much and as always, the romance squandered any real character development on the part of the main character. I may still read the sequel, but I will go into it with much lower expectations.
My Rating: 3.5/5
My next review will be of my latest audiobook read, The King of Crows, the final book in Libba Bray’s Diviners series! I’m almost done and THINGS ARE GETTING REAL!