I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.
Series: The Blood of Stars #1
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
Published: March 2021
On the fringes of the Great Spice Road, 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. Then a royal messenger summons her ailing father to court, and Maia seizes her chance. Disguised as a man, she travels to the Summer Palace in her father’s place to compete for the emperor’s favour, and the coveted position of imperial tailor.
If Maia’s ruse is discovered, her life will be forfeit. But if she wins, she will achieve her greatest dream.
Yet nothing could have prepared her for the challenge ahead: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s bride-to-be. One from the laughter of the sun, one from the tears of the moon, and one from the blood of stars.
Accompanied by the mysterious court enchanter, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise, Maia’s journey will take her to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.
What a ride this book was! Spin the Dawn was just the magical adventure I needed, with its charming characters, adorable romance, whimsical magic, dangerous quests and Asian-inspired lore. This book basically has it all!
The story is essentially divided into two parts. In the first part, Maia disguises as a man to compete for the position of imperial tailor instead of her brother, both to fulfil her life-long dream of becoming the greatest tailor in the land and to help her poverty-stricken family. But the competition is fierce and her adversaries will stop at nothing to win the coveted position, and if Maia’s secret were discovered it would mean certain death. The competition was so fun and easily one of my favourite sections in the novel. It really kept me on the edge of my seat as I never knew what to expect from these cutthroat tailors and from Lady Sernai, the emperor’s bride-to-be who judges the competition.
It was over way too soon, as we moved into Part 2, which is a magical quest as Lady Sernai tasks Maia with sewing three gowns for her: one made from the laughter of the sun, one from the tears of the moon and one from the blood of the stars. Maia sets out to retrieve these with the help of Edan, the court enchanter, and a pair of magical scissors. Perils and challenges abound, and I am totally here for it! I’m not usually a fan of long, arduous quests as I tend to get quite bored with them, but this one managed to keep my attention nicely until the end. And that ending? I am not ok!! I need the second book ASAP and I do not have the second book yet, so that’s a problem.
One of the things that definitely made me love this book so much was the beautiful writing. The author’s world-building and descriptions are just fantastic and I could almost picture everything. This was especially great because this book is so visual, with all the descriptions of dresses, colours, embroideries, and the lush and gorgeous settings. I also really liked how deeply it dives into the world’s culture and its complexities, flawlessly mixing epic fantasy with fairy tale elements.
And the characters… how can I even begin to talk about the characters? Maia and Edan, I loved these two so much! Their banter was just fantastic and often had me hopelessly grinning or straight up laughing and I ship them so hard! I found them both to be characterised so well independently from one another, and I took to them almost immediately. Some of the secondary characters didn’t get a lot of air time, but they very well might in the second book. And Maia and Edan were alone on the road for a significant part of the book, so it does make sense!
A minor complaint I have is around the marketing for this: I saw it pitched as a Mulan retelling but, honestly, I don’t really see it? I mean, the only resemblance to Mulan is Maia dresses up as a boy to answer the emperor’s call in her father’s and her brother’s place, and that’s about where that ends. This book is so much more than simply a Mulan retelling!
Overall, Spin the Dawn was a fantastic read and one I’ll be gushing about for a long while yet. It weaves together danger, magic, humour, romance, and a complex, Asian-inspired world in a beautiful and intricate tapestry. One not to miss!