Three reasons Spin the Dawn belongs on your summer fantasy reading list


Elizabeth Lim’s Spin the Dawn is exactly the sort of buzzy YA fantasy that everyone should be talking about this summer.

It’s got a bit of everything: a rich world full of interesting characters, a fascinating internal mythology and multiple compelling quests. There’s a complex heroine, intriguing court politics, a slow-burn romance, and a surprising amount of action, along with plenty of references to Chinese folktales sprinkled throughout. As a result, Spin the Dawn feels fresh and original, despite the fact that it inevitably includes several popular fantasy tropes.

That story follows Maia, a young woman struggling to keep her family’s tailor shop open in the wake of tragedy and war. When her sick father is summoned to the palace to compete for the chance to become the next Royal Tailor, Maia takes his place, though she risks death if her ruse of masquerading as a boy is discovered. (Women, it turns out, are not allowed to be tailors, and their only hope for a happy life is basically to marry well. Equality now, folks.)

From start to finish, you’ll find yourself drawn into this fast-paced tale. (I finished it in what was, I think, roughly two sittings.) But there are three particularly great things about this novel that seem worth highlighting as reasons you should give Spin the Dawn a try.

 An appealing premise

Spin the Dawn is described by its publisher as Mulan meets Project Runway, but in truth, the story is so much more than that. Its initial premise — that Maia must disguise herself as a boy and compete to become a Royal Tailor and protect her father’s reputation at the same time — would in and of itself be enough to fuel an entire novel. The competition features intriguing rivals and dangerous subterfuge. But during the final stage, Maia is given a magical challenge: Make three impossible dresses from the sun, the moon, and the stars. This task requires a dangerous journey through three distinct areas of the kingdom and kicks off a more intense second phase of the novel.

Spin the Dawn’s world-building is rich and thorough throughout, containing vivid descriptions and mixing Asian-inspired culture with magic, demons, ghosts and more. (There’s even a magic carpet at one point.) The court intrigues between the Emperor and his fiancé, the Lady Sarnai, could support their own story, as could Maia’s family’s history with a pair of magical scissors that help her create incredible garments. Throw in a magical enchanter with his own agenda, someone who seems interested in much more than Maia’s ability to sew, and there’s just so much going on that you won’t want to put this book down.

A charming heroine

Maia Tamerin feels like a breath of fresh air in the world of YA fiction. A teenager who actually acts like a teenager and not an adult trapped in a sixteen-year-old’s body, Maia is equally compelling and frustrating at times. She’s headstrong, stubborn and occasionally reckless, but she’s also brave, kind and determined. Her struggle to balance her desire to help her family with her dreams of becoming a great tailor in her own right is extremely appealing, especially as we see more evidence of how women are kept from reaching their full potential in her kingdom, no matter how talented they might be.

As a result, Maia’s journey is extremely relatable, and even as she makes mistakes, it’s almost impossible not to root for her, particularly as she learns more about herself and the person she wants to become. Maia’s also that rare YA heroine who is the complete opposite of a warrior, and must solve her challenges using her brain and sewing ability instead of a sword. However, her lack of physical fighting skills certainly don’t mean that she’s weak, and there’s something very satisfying about seeing a character who embodies such a different definition of strength in a novel like this.

Mostly, I just adore Maia and can’t wait to see where her story goes next.

A magical romance

To be fair, the central romance of Spin the Dawn isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, in terms of YA romance tropes. But it’s so well done that it’s impossible not to be fully invested in the series’ central couple.

As star-crossed relationships go, it doesn’t get much better than Maia and the mysterious Lord Enchanter, Edan. The slow burn nature of their romance makes their connection feel genuine and earned, even though it’s fairly obvious from their first meeting that something is likely going to happen between them. But both have their own stories and agendas outside of their feelings for one another, and neither asks or expects the other to become something less in order to be together.


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Edan, in particular, is an intriguing character in his own right, for reasons that I can’t exactly spell out here without spoiling some major plot points. But he exists to be and do more than serve as Maia’s love interest, though his feelings for her are both very genuine and swoon-worthy.

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