ARC Review: Spin the Dawn {Elizabeth Lim} - Project Runway if there was a high risk of death





title: Spin the Dawn
author: Elizabeth Lim
pages: 400
format: e ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Fantasy
Topics: Fairy tale, East Asian / Chinese inspired setting and characters, Magic, Retelling
CW: Death, Violence, Threat of sexual assault 



3.5 lemons - I really enjoyed it

Basics 

SPIN THE DAWN is one of those books that just feels like an old-timey fairy tale. While I love retellings that modernize the story, I also really appreciate how Elizabeth stuck to traditional fairy tale pacing and elements while still making the old tale brand new.


What I loved 


  • It’s been pitched as a Mulan retelling meets Project Runway, which I think definitely fits to an extent. It’s like Mulan with scissors, and Project Runway if the participants had to go on deadly quests to acquire their supplies. But what I can’t figure out and my personal favorite part is that it also seems to be a retelling of my absolutely all time favorite fairy tale, Allerleirauh (Bearskin, Catskin, there are many translations) from the Grimm’s collection. The original is about a girl who tries to avoid a creepy marriage to her father (ew) by requesting dresses made of the sun, moon, and stars, which she assumes will be impossible. When he manages to get it done, she flees with the dresses hidden in walnuts and becomes a cook in a far-off kingdom’s palace. Either there’s another similar fairy tale Elizabeth is basing this on, or it’s a retelling. Either way, it’s super exciting to see my favorite tale reimagined so cleverly, from the point of view not of the princess, but of the person who has to make the damn dresses.

  • The setting is East Asian inspired, I believe primarily by China. I love seeing fantasy worlds that deviate from the stereotypical English medieval prototype that used to be omnipresent. Elizabeth’s world is intricate and immersive, from the linguistics to the food to the clothing. You feel instantly transported. It helps that she trusts her reader to catch onto unfamiliar words and ideas in context, rather than resorting to a lot of tedious infodumps like some fantasy authors do. You feel like you’re traveling to a new place and exploring, instead of getting a lecture.

  • While we’re talking about worldbuilding, I loved the mythology! This is a place with gods and superstitions, and folklore and fairy tales. It creates this solid sense of history and place. I love how Elizabeth shared some of the folktales Maia grew up on, and how they become so important to the plot.

  • Maia is a fierce, clever narrator who doesn’t rely on weapons or fighting to be badass. Her weapon of choice is a needle. She creates whole worlds with her outfits. She sews to take care of her family, to express herself, and to take charge of her own life. She likes traditionally feminine things like pretty dresses and there’s no shame for it. She’s also very stubborn, a trait that both keeps her going and gets her into trouble. I found that even when I disagreed with her choices, I found her believable and compelling as a character.

  • I love how Elizabeth explores family and grief. Maia’s mother died when she was young and two of her brothers died in the war. While grief isn’t the main subject of the text, Elizabeth does show how Maia grapples with her grief and how it affects the way she relates to her remaining brother and father in a sensitive, realistic way.

  • I freaking love Edan. He’s this sarcastic, arrogant enchanter who can never be serious, talks in riddles, and thrives on banter. My weakness! I loved the tension and repartee between him and Maia. He reminded me so much of Numair from Tamora Pierce’s books, but snarkier.

  • My favorite part of the story was the dress competition. Honestly, I wish it had gone on a little longer. It was fun watching Maia compete against all these cranky old male tailors, and to see their designs matched up against each other.

  • The side characters felt real and solid, even if they had small parts. I was especially intrigued by Lady Sarnai. You don’t interact with her much, but it’s clear that she has this full, rich backstory and her own trials and grief. I’d love to see more of her in the sequel.

  • The ending. Wow! I thought I knew where Elizabeth was going with the last few chapters, but she managed to surprise me. I love that she didn’t wrap everything up neatly. She forces Maia to make difficult choices and to live with the fallout.


What didn't work as well 


  • Some of the dialogue is kind of wooden or people are talking about things that they know in a way that’s just meant to let the reader now. That tends to rip me out of the story.

  • The middle kind of lulls—oddly enough, because I think it goes a little too fast. The pacing in the competition is so taut and exciting, but when they’re journeying, they’re covering so much time and ground in such short page space that it’s hard to feel immersed. It felt like the trials were a bit too quick and convenient, just because there wasn’t enough time to dwell on them. There were also some really abrupt time jumps that threw me off.

  • Maia seems a little passive during the trials. Edan basically tells her everything she has to do. I connected with her most when she was taking charge, making dresses, and figuring things out for herself.

  • This is definitely a “me” issue that you may not care about, but I thought that Maia and Edan fell in love too quickly. A few weeks together, and they were already talking of marriage and a future! It’s not that I didn’t fully buy it; I just personally like the slow burn bantery stage, and so I get kind of bored once everything is smooth and there seems to be a perfect understanding between the characters.

Other things to know 


  • It’s definitely a patriarchal world, so you should know that going in. Men have all the power, women are subjugated. There isn’t much allowance for anyone nonbinary. But interestingly, although it seems to be unusual to be openly gay, people in this world also don’t seem to have a problem with it.


  • There are also some threats of sexual violence. Personally I didn’t think they were excessive or gratuitous, but if that’s something that you don’t like seeing, be aware going in.

My thoughts overall


A glittering gem of a fairy tale with a unique mythology, clever premise, and exciting finale.

Will I read this author again? Definitely
Will I continue this series? Yes! I need to know what happens next!   






Note: I received this copy from the publisher for an honest review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions. 

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