Spin the Dawn (The Blood of Stars, #1)by Published 09 Jul 2019
|Spin the Dawn (The Blood of Stars, #1).pdf|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers|
This is a previously published edition of ISBN 9780525646990. An alternative cover edition for this ISBN can be found here.
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.
Spin the Dawn (The Blood of Stars, #1) Reviews
3.75 STARS! Fun, sweet, bursting at the seems with unique myths and magic, a world unprecedented, splattered with a delicious dosage of knitting and prettily sparkling dresses (oh my), a little too cloyingly romantic, and not good with its fight scenes (oh no).
“People will see what they want to see.”
Spin the Dawn, in one sentence: A tailor Mulan through a royal competition alongside treacherous masters, a journey through magical, perilous lands for an impossible task, and a love story that fills up your heart!
Sometimes finding the way is tricky, but you always do. As long as you don’t give up.
Do you sing? If not, prepare to have a blast, because I want to tell you about the beautiful art of singing! (you can scroll down to the other sections where I compare it to Mulan and discussed the writing, story, and romance)
Imagine a singer, inconspicuous but striking. She stands there, before you; at a nod of your head, she starts out her song with a low tone. There's no music. You have a moment of doubt, but then her voice settles deep in your bones. You sit up straight, but she doesn't care—she's been already swept up and away from your mortal world and into the magic of the melody. The enchanting rhythm.
She paints a tapestry with her words, she plays with your emotions, she awes you with her talent; to sing the lower notes so artfully! Such mastery. Singers struggle for years to own those sounds and yet, here she is, the notes flying from her lips with such strength, obeying her with such devotion, you think she's an enchantress, a queen of this art. And she takes her precious time: she moves from F3 up to A3 and back down to B2, she dances on C1 and C2 then jumps on C4 and sweeps back to B3 and you catch your breath and you think, you think you are dreaming! You are in awe of her mystical voice. You smile. You sigh. There is a sneaky little teardrop full of love rolling down your cheek. Your poor heart swells.
Then she goes higher. She grasps at E5 and you cringe. She tiptoes back down to the lower notes. You smile. You silently kick yourself for your reaction; all is well. But she hops up on those higher notes again and you stiffen; she slides back down, you relax, settling in for a show because what a slide indeed! You are daydreaming and humming and maybe falling in love...until there's a screech. An earsplitting, blood-all-over-the-floor type of scream. You jump out of your seat and watch her, that blessed singer, tear down the foundation of her song. You watch her stumble from one high note to the next, trying to leash the wildness of that untamed horse and you feel like crying.
It is like listening to the disaster of your life.
To the destruction of something special.
To the sound of potential as its fuse catches fire—as it explodes. Gone.
The singer sings, unaware. She runs back down and dwells on her lower notes again. It is as if nothing happened. Again, you are in awe of her mystical voice. Again, you smile. Again, you sigh. But there is no sneaky little teardrop full of love rolling down your cheek. Your heart no longer swells.
Our sweet singer is Elizabeth Lim, her art not singing but spinning tales. Her song is Spin the Dawn, a swan song that fails.
“What keeps you up at night?” I asked. “You’re never in your tent.”
A cloud passed over his face. “Demons and ghosts.” With a faint smile, he added, “And not having enough books to read.”
Content Warnings: sexism, (passing) threat of rape, and (slight) slavery.
In a land where the Sun, the scorching cruel god, and his glamorous wife, the Moon, meet only one night a year through a bridge of stars that collapse and bleed...
In a land where myths and magic roam the halls of kings and sneak into the hands of tailors, filling them with greed...
And in a land where a girl cannot become a master or a tailor or run a shop and is nothing but a wife, expected to concede...
There lives a girl who could not spin a tale for the love of her, but can spin the finest yarn, and spin the dawn.
“You are meant for more, Maia.”
I turned away. “How can I be? I’m not a man.”
Maia Tamarin has a dream—one she tucks close to heart, sewing it there, hidden within her chest so full of pain, because she is afraid they would mock her, laugh at her...such an impossible dream: to become the master tailor for the king!
That is, until her ailing father is summoned to court to be one of the twelve famed and talented masters competing for the very job she has dreamt of, night and day. To spare her family from ruin and achieve the dream she knows she is talented enough to deserve, Maia risks her life and dresses up as her limping brother, setting off for a palace where her lying, fellow competitors would do anything to prove their art is superior and win the contest.
“This contest wearies me. We are craftsmen. We should learn from one another, not cut each other’s throats.”
But nothing is as simple as that—if beating a band of treacherous old men in a competition while maintaining her disguise can be called simple; because the Lord Enchanter, Edan, the mysterious shadow of the emperor, seems to know just how to get under her skin, seeing all her secrets while also being immeasurably annoying.
Not only that, but she is tasked with sewing the three dresses of the goddess—one from the laughter of the sun, one from the tears of the moon, and one the blood of stars—those mythical wonders many tailors have tried and failed to bring to life, for the emperor's bride-to-be. So, at dawn, she leaves for a long journey across perilous lands, deep into deserts and up, up, up, until she reaches the sky.
“Some journeys have ends, but not this one. This one will change you. Irrevocably.”
The tale of a girl who’d have to sew the sun, the moon, and the stars into three dresses, the tale of a girl whom a demon would vow to possess. It is the tale of a boy, too. A boy who can fly but not swim. A boy with the powers of the gods but the shackles of a slave. A boy who loves her.
It is a tale still being written.
Is This a Retelling of Mulan?
This book was accused of having nothing in common with Mulan except a girl pretending to be a boy, the “retelling” part being a lie. I kept that in mind when I started reading, and my eyebrows rose a little higher every time I found a parallel, to the point that they were lost somewhere in my hair—I no longer had eyebrows :|
And I tell you, trust me, this is just like the original tale, The Ballad of Hua Mulan, but with a few clever twists. I have evidence! Here (the parts not in italic are the original, the parts in italic the retelling):
Andddddd...we're done here :P I gotta say, I specially love that last part where Maia did the opposite of Mulan, though in her heart she wished to follow suit.
Good: Creative Writing & Mastery of Low Notes
Elizabeth Lim's writing is simple and easy to read, and works best in the slower parts of the story (meaning not action scenes). Her mastery over weaving a tale exquisitely and slowly really makes Spin the Dawn special—with its precious moments of unpretentious beauty (example: We melted into each other until the dawn slid into dusk, and the sun paled into the moon, and the stars, once lost, became found again.) and slightly pretentious beauty that is still sweet and fits the YA mood (example: 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.).
But what I loved was how uniquely the tailoring was not only written in itself, making me want Maia to sew a dress for me as well, but was also deeply ingrained in the writing style, constantly used as a simile. Seams and knitting and sewing and spinning all over Maia's thoughts, and I found that a perfect choice with how she lives and breathes them. It served to fully wrap me in the soft silk of the tale.
[Climbing] isn’t so different from sewing, I said to myself. Pretend you’re a needle stitching up the mountain, trying to find the way to make a perfect seam. One wrong stitch, and the fabric of the mountain will be torn.
Bad: A Singer Who Can't Pull Off High Notes
The biggest failing of Lim's writing in this book was two of its most important chapters where the threat of death hung like an executioner's sword above your neck—but it tuned out the sword was dull like a bull, not whetted with skill, and the executioner a clumsy one who doesn't know how to hold a sword, let alone chops off heads with it. Chapters 30 & 31 were two of the worst written chapters I have read in my entire life.
The threats? The fights? The ghosts? The demons? It was all so ridiculously managed that I can't even put words to it. It was like a 10-year-old had tried to write a dramatic scene with the stupidest villains and dialogues, senseless and laughable action all crammed up. It was a mess. I could not believe the same author who had written all those steady slow-burning but mystifying chapters had also written these two. She owned the low slow notes most writers can't pull off, but she could not, for the life of her, write a fast paced part without it seeming like a vehicle that had lost control, reeling off the road, a crash quite imminent *sighs*
Bad: The Things That Did Not Make Sense
I cannot deny that there were parts which were highly unrealistic. I have no complaints about Maia passing as a boy, because she was noted to not have a very girlish voice, and since no one really expected a girl, their prejudices running so deep that they didn't even believe a woman is capable of sewing well, they only saw a girlish boy. And I should add that young boys can sound like girls, as we see it's women who voice young boys in animations. Thus her voice could easily be excused as “not having matured” which is plausible because she is small and has no facial hair.
BUT. Yes, but. There are implausible parts as well; such as how Maia, a girl with zero combat skills, so swiftly escapes the hold of a soldier while, simultaneously, a) jabbing her elbow into his side, b) grabbing the hilt of his dagger, and c) kneeing him in the groin. I'm sorry, have you ever been in a fight? If you have, you'll understand. If not, allow me to elaborate: it doesn't work like that.
To achieve that level of skill and the ability to not fumble around in a fight and so smoothly and quickly coordinate all the muscles of your body to overpower, spin, jab, grab, and kick all at the same time...well, you need to sweat through training sessions for more than 5 years straight. If we're being generous and say it was in quick succession, that would be minus 3 years. How you doing? Wanna fight and test it out? :)
My biggest problem: the scissors. [spoilers removed]
So, while it was a great abstract idea, Elizabeth Lim made no effort to visualise it. Which, next to how she's never been in a fight (only explanation for the way the fights were written, and how the writing lagged and stumbled and fumbled in fast paced parts (the high notes), made me not be able to give this 4.5 and round it up to 5 stars as I'd initially thought I would.
“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.”
Maia (MC): a girl who lives to sew but cannot sew because she is a girl :) I like Maia, she does not give up and is bold and willing to fight for herself...until fighting for herself would hurt someone else. Then, she fights for them. But she is always fighting, and that's something I appreciate.
“To the West, I am known as His Most Illustrious; to the East, I am His Most Illuminating; and in every other corner of the world, I am His Most Formidable.”
Edan: I wanted to punch him. I really, really wanted to punch him 😂 I love him though. A mix of the Darkling (Shadow and Bone; NOT the personality, more role) and Rhysand (ACOTAR; very much like this one), he was hilarious and so precious :') my only complaint was how he acted like a teenage boy even with 500+ years of experience under his belt (same age as both of the aforementioned).
“War comes at a great cost,” Lady Sarnai said, “and from that sacrifice comes peace. Sometimes we must let go of what we value for the future of our country. Be it a beautiful fan, or our honor, or our lives. In the end, we all belong to the gods anyway.”
Lady Sarnai is a really interesting character I'd like to know more about. Yes, I know, she spares our MC no pain, but I'm also entranced by how she views magic, how she grew up, and how she sees her father and the state of the empire. Mostly, I just love her, so hush. Aside from her, Keton and Longhai were the other sweethearts.
“Don’t work so hard you—”
“Become the kite that never flies,” I finished for him. “I know.”
The family dynamics and brother-sister bonds, even though short and only at the beginning, were wonderful! As I have two older brothers myself, I found I loved seeing that bond on the page.
“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.”
The romance is another tale; for 60% of the book, the two kept on with their hilarious banter and I shipped them deeply, I even posted an status update shouting at them to kiss. Then they did...and I wanted them to stop. They were cute together, yes, but now they were only kissing. The whole book took a back seat to them making out, constantly, without stop. And a journey that could've been way more fun was just slammed together.
The world of Spin the Dawn is probably the best and most fascinating part of it: rich with traditions like women preparing their gifts for the dead, offering someone flowers being the sign of courtship, and only courting someone with serious intentions; brimming with long titles of the likes of “Khagan of Kings, Son of Heaven, Favored of Amana, Glorious Sovereign of A’landi.” (keep going 😂); overflowing with myths of gods like the Sun with his domain in the desert, burning away everything you have, from your hope to your dignity, to your very life, and the god of thieves who once stole the stars and must now pay by holding up a bridge on his shoulders.
My favourite part about the magic was, most definitely, how there was a price. I love that idea. I love how [spoilers removed]. The sense of balance this created was absolutely satisfying!
One thing I'd like to note is the three trials of body, mind, and soul, which are the popular way of viewing human nature these days; the idea is vaguely alike to both the Tripartite theology in Christianity, and the body and dual soul of Chinese. I would have like more Chinese-inspired content, but I was happy all the same :)
“That is just the way of men. For what is a promise if it’s made to a woman?”
The world of Spin the Dawn is also a sexist one where girls can't be masters or the likes, and to me their expectations of a girl and a boy was mostly the way someone trapped inside and told to be obedient would act, against someone allowed outside and told they're the masters, would. Which is infuriating but still quite honest in displaying the truth of it—that the difference in their behaviour is more by nurture than nature.
My Struggle Rating
Oh was it a struggle! I shifted from 4.5 to 3.5 on a loop until I started to feel dizzy! And then I realised that, even though some parts disappointed me and others annoyed me, in the end the enchanting, unique feel of it made it a fun read all the same. But my emotions shifted only between awe and “awwwwwwwwww” and “haha” and nothing more (unlike the range of emotions The Storm Crow made me feel) and the second part could've been so much better, so I will give it just a little lower a rating than TSC, as they each had their own magic :)
Books in series:
• Unravel the Dusk (The Blood of Stars, #2) ☆☆☆☆☆
Book playlist: Spotify URL
Project Runway meets Mulan sounds interesting but I need this book for reasons that have everything to do with the cultivated vanity that’s reserving my space in hell.....I mean just look at THAT COVER.
This was the magical adventure of my dreams and I am a little starstruck right now. I meeeean, wow. It mixed this whimsical fairy-tale quality in with one of my favourite ships of 2019, not to mention the ending has left me gasping like a dried out minnow on the floor. I JUST. I thought it was a standalone and now I need more and I do not have more help meeeeee.
[pulls self together]
// can we talk about the magic first
because it was astoundingly and gorgeously done!! Maia is disguising herself as a boy to win a position as the Imperial Tailor (to save her very poor, very low-on-luck family). And as the story goes on, she's commanded to sew three dresses from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars. So like we have some epic amounts of whimsy going on and I LOVED IT. It meshed this fairy tale quality tone with just a good ol' epic fantasy adventure (cue roadtrips and trails etc.) Perfect mixture is perfect. Plus I confess...I get really exhausted reading epic fantasy usually. But not this?! I felt like it had perfect world building BUT still stayed really easy to read and accessible (thx from me, with only two brain cells to rub together).
I also loved the magic scissors that Maia wields and the hint that, because she can use them and others can't...maybe there's more to her...
I hear it pitched as a Mulan retelling, but that's really only because Maia disguises herself as a boy to enter the trials. But she's literally sewing lmao. And no one sings I'll Make A Man Out Of You so. Smh.
// the characters won my heart in an instant!!!
I loved Maia! She's your loving, passionate and forthright Gryffindor type; can't lie, loves her family, will plunge into danger with 2% planning. LOVE MAIA. She has a little hot temper streak and I adored that too. But oh oh we must also talk about Edan, aka the Imperial Enchanter who takes quite a shine to Maia right up. I mean, he's a magician so he can tell she's not a boy. And their banter just goes from little jabs to homey bickering and GAH I LOVE THEM. This is my favourite trope!! Mild-enemies-to-lovers ajfkdlsad. And I can't even say how much I cracked up at their arguments. Edan is absolutely ridiculous and just like this fluffy, sparky ball of magic who doesn't shut up and teases Maia so much she just wants to throttle him. But yA KNOW...the chemistry is off the charts. 😌
Maia is basically yelling that he's arrogant and he's like "OH YEAH" and then she's like "YEAH NOW KISS ME YOU JERK" and I stan.
(Paraphrased, hush. The book is much much better written than my meme'ing qualities.)
Anyway 10/10 to their relationship ajdfklsad. I felt like Edan (all dressed in black, bound to the Emperor, mystical with dark powers) is like the inverse of the Darkling. If the Darkling was a dorky boy and flirted like a giddy pumpkin.
// the story it told
Ok I totally loved the story! It held a lot of homey tropes too; so like the trials of the tailors to win their position was fun and stabby. Then Part II of the book is more like a roadtrip with lots of perils. I am less, personally, fond of fantasy excursions but it didn't feel slow. I LOVED the gathering of impossible objects and all the banter there too.
And did I mention THE ENDING WASN'T FAIR. It brought out the feels like nothing else. Like don't hold back punches W O W.
(My only cautious negative, and I did read an ARC so I don't know if this changes, is there was several anti-queer sentiments; like Maia being horrified at the thought of gay men etc.)
// overall; I'm not sure why you are still here and not reading this book.
I so SO enjoyed it!! It was magical and whimsical, but also layered with humour and banter, and a couple I completely and utterly adore. EDAN AND MAIA, MY MAGICAL DISASTER LOVERS. It captured my imagination and my heart! And of course adored the full Asian/POC cast from an #ownvoices author. More of this!! And cannot frikkin' wait for the sequel.
2 Angry cunt stars. (Yes, cunt Clem is back and I'm about to burn the house down.)
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and non-gender conforming folks, welcome to another episode of "How the hell did this get published?", staring Spin the Dawn and yours truly. Please take a seat, grab yourself a drink, and hold on tight to your grandma’s underwear....because shit is about to get serious.
SYNOPSIS: Some random girl from the north of somewhere (I can’t, for the life of me, tell you where) likes to sew clothes in her dad’s old sewing shop. Apparently, her dad used to be famous and, 20 years later, some random dude--who we never see again--knocks on her doorstep and requires the father’s presence in court to participate in some competition to become the royal tailor. But the dad can’t go because he’s a drunk and the daughter can’t go because she’s not a man, so she disguises herself as her brother and impersonates him in court. She wins the competition and becomes the royal tailor. Now she’ll have to keep the charade of her being a man...and she’ll be under threat of being executed forever!
[spoilers and severe cringe ahead.]
1. So, we need to talk about this trend of having the main character in Asian fantasy having to “crossdress” to survive, but who never questions their gender identity because it’s so outrageous to even think gender identity can be fluid or not cis. I’m not saying that I want every crossdresser to be trans, I just want the perception of one’s gender expression to be discussed in novels.
This trend is just an example of how unoriginal this book is. I’ve read 5 fantasy YA like this already in 2019 and I can’t, for the life of me, differentiate them from one another.
2. The worldbuilding. One word:
It’s non-existent. If my bestfriend hadn’t told me that this was an Asian fantasy, I wouldn’t have known. I can’t say where this book takes place. What kind of government it has. What religions are represented (or invented). How the magic works. Who are the gods. What kind of creature exists. Why are the two sides at war… Nope, I have literally no clue.
3. The characters. I dead-ass caught myself calling Mia by the name Alina for the majority of this book (the love interest being the disgusting Mal obvi). That goes to show how well developed the characters are. Whenever the female character showed a bit of personality she either passed out or needed saving. Seriously, we’re being told that Mia is “so strong and smart”, but all she does is sleep, complain, and gush over some random hobo.
4. The romance.
Just kidding. I have rarely been more turned off in my entire life. It was as if I was reading the script of the worst Lifetime movie ever made. The cringiness of the dialogues broke the levels of the awkwardness of After (the movie). I had chills during some of the dullest and impersonal romantic dialogues I’ve ever read in my life.
Here are some examples:
“You deserve someone who can be with you. That someone isn’t me.”
“Kissing you was wrong. It was a moment of weakness.”
And many more that I can’t even look at without gagging.
In other words, just because you can write one word after the other doesn’t mean that you should write a book. (Maybe I should start to listen to my own advice.)
wow wow wow. i am truly blown away by how amazing this story is. the book blurb does this a slight disservice by pitching it as a cross between mulan and project runway. not because it doesnt have those elements, but because this is SO much more than that.
the story is captivating with enthralling writing and charming characters. oh my gosh. edan is one of the wittiest characters i have read in a while. his banter with maia is such a delight to read. from start to finish, i was entertained with every page.
but what really impressed me is the blend of cultures. the world is an array of different people and traditions and i love how this captures that so well. this story richly mixes the folklore of both east asian and middle eastern cultures and creates a vibrant setting, perfect for maia and her adventure. i love how this didnt just stick to one, like most stories do, but expanded beyond that. it made for quite an enchanting world to read.
i am so desperate to get my hands on the next book - if only i could find my own enchanter to make it happen!
↠ 5 stars