I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Elizabeth Lim’s debut novel Spin the Dawn, a young woman named Maia disguises herself as a man to enter a competition at the imperial capital to become the emperor’s tailor. While there, she learns the scissors she has inherited are magical, and that the emperor’s enchanter seems able to see through her disguise. Then, she is tasked with recreating the mythical dresses of the goddess Amana and must go on a journey to obtain the key elements, learning more about herself and the world than she expected.
The premise of this book intrigued me because of the clear Mulan inspiration and the fantasy take on a country like China. I liked the twist of the Mulan figure not being a warrior, but gaining status through her skills as a creator. However, there was not as much of a Mulan storyline, nor was there as much emphasis on the actual tailoring, as I expected.
From a technical standpoint, the writing of his book isn’t bad. Lim can create an interesting world, and the dialogue is realistic and interesting for the most part. The occasional action scenes are intense without being overly battle-heavy. However, several problems I had while reading overshadow this. Firstly, there is a lot of lore explored in this book, but only in a cursory way, or so it felt to me. The mythology surrounding the three dresses did not convince me; they felt like plot devices to get Maia traveling.
Maia is not a particularly interesting protagonist, either. Though it is established in the first chapters that she has skill at sewing, most of her later success comes from her enchanted scissors rather than her own hard work. Furthermore, her romance with Edan frustrated me. To me, this boy has no solid reason for becoming so captivated by her so quickly, even if he does recognize she is a girl in disguise. They hardly get to know each other in much detail, so to me do not develop much chemistry. And since their relationship ends up informing a lot of the plot, I did not feel as invested in any of it as I was supposed to.
In the end, Spin the Dawn did not live up to my expectations. The premise is clever, the fantasy world is interesting, and the writing is decent. Overall, the book has potential, but I feel could have benefited from some revisions to incorporate more lore, a more solid character motivation, and a stronger romance. Perhaps this will happen in the planned sequel that is to come out in 2020, but I’m not planning to read it.
Overall rating: 6.8/10
Spin the Dawn was published in July 2019, so this review isn’t exactly “advance,” but… oh well.