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.
Up this week on Bad YA Books that Baited Me with Beautiful Covers, we’ve got Spin the Dawn. Advertised as an Asian-inspired cross between Project Runway and Mulan, I was left wanting on all three aspects.
The most enjoyable part of this book was probably the Project Runway parts. Maia, daughter of a once-famous tailor, travels to the capital under the guise of her brother’s name in attempts to win the position of Royal Tailor. She faces off against the nation’s other great masters in attempts to impress extremely fickle judges with her work. I’m weak to fashion competitions, so for the most part I enjoyed this section. However, this section is only the first 40% of the book. which is way too short. I was expecting an entire book of creating cool outfits and describing the creative process, but even that portion was surprisingly small.
Everything else? Well, the everything else was pretty bad. In the remaining 60% of the book, Maia goes off to search for corners of the earth for three mystical ingredients to make some fancy wedding dresses. Accomapnying her is Edan, the seemingly immortal palace sorcerer who’s past is dark and mysterious. Throughout the book, Maia has about as much personality as a wet rag, cut from the same cookie cutter badass female YA protag who still needs to be saved by her way-more-powerful lover interest.
Edan, the character that shows on-screen once and you nod to yourself, yup, that’s the love interest, is slightly more interesting, if only because he has magic. Edan’s characterization impressed me, because I thought he was pretty cool at first, and he somehow managed to get less interesting as the book goes on. The edgy mysterious male love interest character is pretty cool 30% into the book. The edgy mysterious male love interest character becomes significantly less interesting 70% into the book, having received no other backstory.
Together, their romance was lackluster. I’ve grown to strongly dislike romances between a teen and immotal being in YA because they’re just never written well. Edan is 500 years old, an extremely power magician that brought nations to their knees and murdered a countless number of people. How do you still behave like a 17-year-old boy??? He literally calls himself a foolish boy at one point, telling Maia she can do better. Sir, you’re 500 years old. Calm down. Also the instalove trope.
Their adventures to finding these ingredients were bland at best, and that’s largely due to lack of any real worldbuilding. There’s just enough to describe the locations they travel to that they exist in a world, but basically nothing to connect the dots. If this world was supposed to be Asian-inspired, I didn’t realize. Even in the Project Runway sessions, the tailors are assigned to make items like a shawl, slippers, and a jacket. All western clothing names. I wanted to see them assigned to a cheongsam or a hanbok (not sure which part of Asia the worldbuilding’s inspired by), or just something more distinctively Asian.
Overall, I rate this a 2.5/5. The cover is gorgeous and I found the Project Runway fashion competition section alright, but between the lack of worldbuilding, flat characters, and overall messy plot, I did not enjoy reading this book.
r/Fantasy 2020 Bingo Squares
- Novel Featuring Exploration
- Romantic Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
- Novel Featuring Politics
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers