|Spin the Dawn / Elizabeth Lim|
NY: Knopf, c2019.
This week we have a YA novel to talk about. This is the first book in a series, featuring Maya, a young woman and expert sewist & designer, who poses as a boy to enter the Emperor's competition to become royal tailor.
The book is set somewhere in the past, in a fantasy world based on China. There are wars that have destroyed many families, including Maya's -- her two older brothers have died in the fighting, while the youngest has returned home unable to walk. Thus when the Emperor requests that the son of this family of tailors attend the trials, Maya (who is the only one in her family to have learned her father's expertise anyhow) turns herself into her brother.
It's a fascinating set-up, with an interesting main character & a dramatic situation. The world created here is convincing, with lots of court intrigue to drive the story. But what I was most interested in was the sewing competition! Someone called it "Project Runway with magic" and that really does summarize the first half of the book. The details of the last minute, elaborate projects that Maya and the other tailors are asked to make are described fully, and the rivalries between the participants are clear. The planning process Maya goes through to come up with her ideas is also shown, which I thought was great. Of course she does have the help of her grandmother's magic shears...
I really enjoyed the build-up and the competition part of this book. But then Maya is sent on a quest for 3 impossible materials for a gown for the Emperor's fiancee, inexplicably being helped by the royal magician. He's an ancient, nearly immortal figure bound to the Emperor, but of course he's also young and handsome in appearance & for no good reason defies the Emperor to accompany Maya. Apparently he has seen through her disguise & fallen in love with her. Why? Who knows, it comes from nowhere and doesn't really convince a reader. Most of the second half has them mooning over each other while they are on a dangerous quest, and I am afraid I found it a bit tedious. There is not much sewing or designing going on even though it seemed so vital to Maya earlier.
And because it's a series it doesn't really tie up in a conclusive manner. But I'm not sure I will continue with this series. The first half of the book was very strong & unique, but it fell into cliched YA territory halfway through, at least for me. But if you want to read about some fabulous glass slippers & magically enhanced silk painted gowns, give it a go; you'll enjoy those parts if you sew as well.