Author: Elizabeth Lim
Narrator: Kim Mai Guest
Audiobook Length: 13 hours 54 minutes
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.
As I have enjoyed Elizabeth Lim’s other novels, I wanted to try one of her earlier ones with the duology, The Blood of Stars. The first novel, Spin the Dawn has been described as Mulan meets Project Runway and I can see parallels between the material. The story follows the main character, Maia Tamarin, who is the best tailor of her village in the empire of A’landi. In this universe, women are not allowed to become Masters, which means that Maia must hide her talents, however her father, who is a former Master, supports her. When her father is requested to join a royal competition, Maia takes her father’s place in disguise.
There are two main parts to this story as the first focuses on the competition and the second is a quest and delves into details that seem to lead to events for the sequel. While the first part and the second part do tie together and lead to the sequel, it does read as a single story; however, for me, it would have read a lot better as a trilogy.
In the first part, Maia arrives at the Summer Palace for Emperor Khanujin to discover that she is to compete for the title of Imperial Tailor against eleven other competitors. The emperor’s bride-to-be, Lady Sarnai, the daughter of his rival, creates the challenges for the competition with seemingly impossible standards. Here is where a lot of the story could be expanded as the challenges to sew various garments are difficult and there is the added challenge that Maia needs to continue to hide the fact, she is a girl. This portion was very interesting and could have held their own in their own novel, so I wish that the author explored these elements more as the material seemed to be there. The Emperor’s Lord Enchanter, Edan, seems suspicious of Maia and there seems to be more than meets the eye with Edan’s magic and the emperor.
For the second part, Maia is tasked with making three dresses of the goddess Amana from the sun, moon, and stars. Here she sets out on a long and dangerous journey with Edan at her side. With the two characters on a journey together, they get to know the other and soon some romantic feelings further develop. The romance in this story was expected since Edan’s first appearance on page, but I do wish it was drawn out a little more just to get to the initial liking each other stage. The two characters share some great banter, but I do feel that Edan was not used as an individual character to his full potential. This could be due to this being the first novel in the duology, but it felt that he disappeared a little to fit the story.
Overall, this is a very interesting concept that I never thought I would read. A fantasy filled novel that begins with a sewing competition is unique and I, again, wish that this was a novel all on its own. The second part with the quest was great, but it should also have been its own novel. Emperor Khanujin and Lady Sarnai were interesting secondary characters, so it will be interesting how the entire plot plays out in the second novel. There is a lot of set-up at the end of this novel, so I am very curious to start, Unravel the Dusk, to see how Lim pulls it off!