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.
Steeped in Chinese culture, sizzling with forbidden romance, and shimmering with magic, this young adult fantasy is pitch-perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas or Renée Ahdieh.
Content warnings: (click to show)
ableist tropes, societal homophobia, death of loved ones (mother + brothers), sexual harassment, off-page animal deaths (birds, hunted for sport), blood, being outted as female (shirt ripped forcibly in public)
I received an advance review copy of the book for the blog tour through Caffeine Book Tours; however, this does not affect my rating or opinions expressed.
“A tailor’s worth is not measured by his fame, but by the happiness he brings.”
one: the trial
- Sun – Sleeping At Last
- Dear Daughter – Halestorm
- Brighter – Against The Current
two: the journey
- Moon – Sleeping At Last
- Me Without You – Sam Tsui
- 絲路 – 梁靜茹 [Silk Road – Fish Leong]
three: the oath
- Stars – Alessia Cara
- Sinners – Lauren Aquilina
- Home – Daughtry
Baba proudly told me I was born with a needle in one hand, a pair of scissors in the other. That if I hadn’t been born a girl, I might have become the greatest tailor in A’landi, sought after by merchants from one coast of the continent to the other.
Though her gender and age lead others to discount her, Maia doesn’t need their validation: she’s as great a tailor as any of the masters she’s up against. And she’s determined, clever, fiercely loyal to her family, with a strong moral compass. I empathized so much with her disappointments and triumphs alike, and her vulnerability just made her even more likable. Of course she isn’t perfect; she doesn’t always make the best decision in every situation (understandable, given what she’s up against) — but she’s so clearly doing her best with all she has.
In other words, it only took a few chapters for me to decide that Maia Tamarin deserves the world. And that she’s fully capable of taking it by storm.
I’d always been skeptical of magic. But I tended to be skeptical of most things I couldn’t stitch together with a needle and thread.
The fantasy elements in this tale are masterfully woven (pun intended) into the narrative. Having grown up learning about Chinese deities and folklore, I could identify familiar elements that I connected to in a way that I rarely connect with European-based fantasy; however, you definitely don’t need prior knowledge to enjoy the worldbuilding.
Since the magic system is new to Maia too, explanations are easily incorporated into the narrative as she learns about it. The secrets and bits of relevant history / legend are interspersed throughout, so there’s always another reveal to look forward to. Even having finished Spin the Dawn, I’m sure more awaits us as the series continues, and I’m excited to see what’s in store.
“Some journeys have ends, but not this one. This one will change you. Irrevocably.”
“Don’t all journeys change you?”
“It isn’t the same.”
As she learns more about the world, naturally Maia also learns more about herself, her values and views. From her hometown to the palace to [spoiler(s) redacted] where she seeks magical dress materials, she gets to explore so many beautiful (and sometimes deadly) places and try all kinds of food and meet lots of different people. And in the process, it’s inspiring to watch her mature, developing self-awareness and confidence, making allies and enemies, standing up for what she wants / believes.
“You’re used to being underestimated, so you want to prove yourself. Don’t let that be your crutch. Accept help when you need it.”
“I welcome any opportunity to sleep a few extra minutes rather than dress finely. Mornings don’t become me.”
On a technical level, Lim’s writing is incredibly versatile. Scenes range from inspirational and profound (as in the first quote above) to humorously relatable (as in the second quote); the balance between playful and serious moments keeps things interesting without being either too intense or too shallow.
“It is an illusion to assume we choose whom we love. I cannot change how I feel about you. I would move the sun and the moon if it meant being with you.”
To be honest, I wasn’t totally swept away by the romance — I think I was expecting more of a focus on Maia’s journey, and it turns out both are central to the main plot.
There’s nothing actually wrong with it, though, and I did enjoy watching them banter and get to know each other and face the odds together. By about halfway through the book, I was unreservedly rooting for them: I’m always weak for a good power couple who are each other’s vulnerability, and their hard-won mutual respect is wonderful to see in action.
I knew then that we were like two pieces of cloth, sewn together for life. Our stitches couldn’t be undone. I wouldn’t let them.
I know I can’t talk about the ending without spoilers, so all I’ll say is holy wow, I need the sequel ASAP. The final scene is simultaneously satisfying and frustrating: I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger necessarily, but it’s certainly suspenseful.
[ETA: Other readers have pointed out ableism and casual homophobia in the final version of this book. I don’t retract my support and enjoyment of the well-told story and terrific Asian representation, but that certainly doesn’t negate the problematic elements — if you’re thinking about whether to read this book, please be aware and take care of your mental health. (Twitter thread with more specifics here.)]
Quotes were taken from an Advance Review Copy and may change upon publication.
About the Author
Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, “Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that’s kinda cool!” But after one of her teachers told her she had “too much voice” in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English.
Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel — for kicks, at first, then things became serious — and she hasn’t looked back since.
Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.
[Icons Credit: Side_Project]
(also available on the blog tour launch post)
On July 7 at 9:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) / 9:00 PM Philippine Time (PHT), @CaffeineTours will be hosting a #CBTTC Twitter chat open to everyone; it will be spoiler-free and includes a giveaway of finished copies!