Goodreads: Spin the Dawn
Series: The Blood of Stars #1
Published: July 9, 2019
Maia Tamarin has longed dreamed of becoming the tailor to the emperor. Unfortunately, the position is not open to women. But then emperor calls her father to court and Maia, seeing her chance, disguises herself as her brother and goes in his stead. There she enters a competition to please the emperor’s newly betrothed and become the court tailor. But she never reckoned on being assigned an impossible task or on falling in love with an enchanter.
Spin the Dawn is a refreshing fairy tale retelling–refreshing in the sense that it sticks to the classic framework of a fairy tale, rather than trying to add too many twists or subversions in the hopes of becoming original. The usual feminist messaging of the modern YA fantasy is present, of course, as Maia attempts to earn her place in a man’s profession. But, by and large, the book follows the expected patterns and hits the expected notes–just right for a fairy tale. Readers who love tales of enchantments and quests and magical dresses will find everything they love here.
The first half of the book, in which Maia competes to become court tailor, is regrettably much better than the second half–regrettable because the quest to make three dresses of legend (from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars) is ostensibly the focal point of the story. The first half, however, is the part of the story that introduces us to Maia, her family, and her motivations. It is the part where we get to see Maia fight to be recognized as a female tailor. It is the place where we see her beginning to understand that living at court does not mean a life of ease and luxury. It is the part where Maia shines.
Once Maia is assigned her quest, however, the story flounders a bit. The quest takes second place to Maia’s budding romance with the Lord Enchanter–a romance that I never fully bought into, as Maia and the enchanter do not really know each other (something Maia herself repeatedly brings up, though it doesn’t stop her from tearing off his clothes). And Maia ends up taking second place to the enchanter, who is the one who plans the route, orders the supplies, and knows the legends that will allow Maia to collect what she needs. Oh, the Lord Enchanter says he cannot actually get the sun, the moon, or the stars for Maia. But he does everything except hold out the container. The effect is to make it clear that Maia on her own would have failed. She just does not have the knowledge or the resources to do the quest by herself.
A tale about teamwork and leaning on each other’s strengths would have been fine, a novel twist on the usual fairy tale quest in which the heroine typically has to outwit magical forces herself. But Maia’s skills largely seem relegated to sewing, knitting, and knotting things, while the Lord Enchanter does most of the rest. (And Maia has magic scissors that make her do all her work faster and better, which sort of takes away from her talent–something Maia also feels.) This means that the actual collection of the laughter, the tears, and the blood should be really difficult to prove Maia’s worth. And they are difficult, theoretically. But they happen so quickly, it almost feels like anyone could do it, with a bit of perseverance and some magic. Only the third challenge–the blood of stars–receives extended treatment, convincing me that only someone with exceptional strength of will and physical prowess could complete the task.
Spin the Dawn is an enjoyable fairy tale retelling, sure to delight those who like their fairy tales with straightforward quests. However, uneven pacing and an overemphasis on an half-developed romance weaken the story.