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’ve never watched Project Runway, and it’s been years since I’ve seen Mulan. It was the stunning cover and enticing description that drew me to this book.
The solid, imaginative world-building, and Chinese-inspired land are a perfect backdrop for this story. Descriptions of Maia’s creations and her world are done to perfection, and the magic system is original and explained well.
Maia is everything I enjoy in a main character – feisty, competitive, intelligent, stubborn. She dreams of becoming the emperor’s tailor, a position only men are permitted to fill. To Maia, that’s a minor setback, and she finds a way to enter the competition pitting her against eleven men who are far more experienced in the craft. I initially thought Edan would be detrimental in her quest, but he turned out to be my favorite character. Charming, intuitive, and mischievous, he’s supportive from their first meeting, and has many secrets of his own.
While the first half of the book is all about the competition, the second half is vastly different, with some nail-biting moments. Along with lots and lots of romance. That’s not an issue for plenty of readers, but it comes close to monopolizing the last 50% of the book, and is something I didn’t expect from the description. The relationship between Maia and Edan is well-portrayed, if a bit predictable, and isn’t without its challenges.
Spin the Dawn is a unique YA fantasy inspired by Chinese culture and mythology, and is set in a magical world, but leans heavily on more romance than I prefer – and I know I’m in the minority in that opinion!
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.