SPIN THE DAWN, by Elizabeth Lim , Knopf Books for Young Readers, July 9, 2019, Hardcover, $18.99 (young adult)
Elizabeth Lim’s Spin the Dawn is one of my favorite fantasy novels of 2019. Billed as Project Runway meets Mulan this first book in Lim’s The Blood of Stars series has the feel of Allison Goodman’s Eon and Eona while taking on the cutthroat world of becoming imperial tailor.
Maia Tamarin is a skilled tailor, but that doesn’t matter. She can dream as much as she wants of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, she knows that will never happen. Marriage is all she can look forward to.
That all changes when a royal messenger arrives to take her father to court. The emperor is looking for a new imperial tailor, and Maia’s father had once been at the top of the pack. Now ailing, Maia’s father is in no shape to make the journey, let alone compete for the job. So Maia cuts her hair, assumes a limp, and goes in her father’s place.
It isn’t until Maia arrives at the palace that she realizes she isn’t just being handed the job. She must compete against 11 other tailors, and the challenges are not going to be easy.
Not only are the tailors insanely talented, but the person they must impress the most — the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be — want nothing more than to see all of them fail.
As you’d expect, the competition is full of backstabbing and lies. And when Maia draws the attention of the court enchanter, Edan, things get even more complicated. Through it all, Maia holds strong, but nothing can prepare her for the final task — sewing three magic gowns from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars.
I tend to read a mixture of genres for children of all ages, and I don’t read a ton of fantasy, so when I hit upon something like Spin the Dawn, I have to share it. Author Elizabeth Lim has mastered the age-old task of showing rather than telling. You feel as though you are sitting next to Maia as she creates her masterpieces, which seem to almost sing off the page.
As the story progresses, so does Lim’s world-building. I tasted sand in my mouth and felt it in my eyes as Maia traveled to the desert; felt the biting wind and ice as she summits a mountain; and felt the depths of longing and despair as she faced unimaginable foes.
The only drawback to Spin the Dawn is that you’ll have to wait for the next book in the series. In the meantime, though, you can read Lim’s other book, Reflection: A Twisted Tale from Disney-Hyperion, that follows Mulan as she travels to the Underworld on a quest to save Shang.