Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

“Seize the wind. Don’t become the kite that never flies.”

Spin the Dawn Cover

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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. 

DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.



CW: loss of a loved one, implied alcoholism, sexual harassment, violence, fade to black sex scene

I really wanted to like this book. I really did. The summary alone has some of my favorite elements (can I say no to a competition? to magic? to pulling down the heavens and making something tangible out of them? of course not!), and almost all the talk about Spin the Dawn that I’ve seen so far has been upbeat and positive. So maybe this is me and not the book, but still, the bottom line is that I didn’t exactly love it.

It started strong enough, with Maia entering the competition to become the next imperial tailor in her father’s stead, posing as her brother. Up against eleven other tailors, she has to prove her skill with needle and thread (along with some more unconventional materials) in order to win the post. The competition’s rewards mean everything to her, too: it would allow her to make sure her father and surviving brother are well-cared for the rest of their lives, and she won’t have to marry the pushy baker’s son and set her seamstress skills aside for the rest of her life. I was so excited to read this story of a girl besting all these arrogant grown men, not only with her own skill, but with magic they couldn’t dream of possessing. I was thrilled, getting ready for all the close calls, waiting to see who would be eliminated each round!

And then the competition only took up the first third of the book, turning abruptly into a journey story mixed with a romance that had me on edge and frustrated for the rest of the book.

Limiting the competition to the first third of the book and then switching the structure like that made me wish the book had picked one or the other, and not tried to do both. For me, it threw off the pacing, because the thrill of the competition was cut short (not to mention secondary characters present for the competition that I THOUGHT would be more important and more interesting basically held little importance in the end), and when it came to the journey, divided into three parts, it felt so heavily formulaic that I found myself skimming.

And the romance. Oh god. I know I’m kind of a crab about romance in YA lately (maybe I should just find some aro-spec books and chill with those for a while, get my bearings and have a good time), but this actually used one of my least favorite pairing tropes ever.

Yep, it used “immortal man falls in love with teenage girl and then keeps secrets that are supposedly for her own good,” and I’m thoroughly unimpressed. And it’s not even speculation, because the LI at one point admits to being over 500 years old! Not to mention he takes an interest in Maia because of the magic she wields through her scissors, then proceeds to torment the hell out of her for her stay in the palace for the competition. It just feels so…predatory to me that I can’t like it, no matter how many times you throw in some cloak sharing and “oh I’ve never felt this way before in 500 years, you’re so special.” I breezed through the entire second half of the book because of this, because it made my skin crawl.

Not to mention Maia started this book centered on helping her brother and father stay alive, essentially, and she ends it basically obsessed with the fate of the LI.

Maybe it’s different in the final copy, but as it stands in the ARC, this really wasn’t a book for me. The pacing didn’t feel right, the romance is my least favorite kind, and I realized by the end of the book that even though I really wanted to care about the characters or the plot, I didn’t. It had lost all appeal somewhere around the halfway mark, and maybe I should have DNFed.

Additionally, I should note I read a version of the ARC that was made available back in January, and while I’ve heard changes have been made since then (changes I personally have not seen, as I have not had a chance to redownload the ARC), the version I read included a magical cure for a character’s disability, which is really a trope that’s just. Got to stop. It’s dismissive, and I’m glad to hear it was rewritten in updated ARCs/in the final copy, but it shouldn’t have been in there in the first place.

That said, I suppose I should mention that there is a beautiful map in the front (no matter what, I always love a gorgeous map!), and that there’s a sense of a world beyond just the palace and the little seaside down Maia comes from. I would have loved to see this world a little more in depth, get a better sense of some of the people and the folklore and everything that seems like should have gone with it, because that was interesting. Taken with the problems in the book, though, a hint of interest wasn’t enough to really save the whole thing from being kind of disappointing.

If you’re still interesting in getting Spin the Dawn, though, it comes out tomorrow, July 9th, so now is your last chance to pre-order it! I absolutely hope you enjoy it more than I did if you read it, and if you choose to cut it off your TBR, that’s perfectly understandable too.

0 thoughts on “Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

  1. I was really excited for this one, just look at that cover, it’s amazing! But.. a cure for a characters disability? That sounds absolutely awful and just the knowledge that it used to be in the book puts me off. I’ll have to reconsider if I want to read this one at all. Thanks for being honest!

    1. Yeah, it wasn’t great. I’d recommend seeing if you can find any ownvoices reviews of the finished copy, though, to see how it was resolved and if the author took that feedback to heart in the right ways. It affected my reading because it was in my copy, but if there’s been a proper respectful change, I wouldn’t let the old version stop you.

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