My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I originally picked up the first installment of this duology, “Spin the Dawn,” because the plot summary sounded very appealing. I was very drawn to the Mulan-like concept and Project Runway theme as well as the promise of magical elements, and I had also seen many reviews promising that this series was a definite must-read. The plot follows the story of Maia, a tailor in a strongly patriarchal East Asian-inspired country who must take part in a competition similar to those on Project Runway.
The book, though not exactly terrible, turned out to be very forgettable. The worldbuilding is lackluster, and I feel that the author could have executed it much better. For example, a war is currently underway, but there is barely any memorable backstory as to why it is happening. The magic system is also fairly underdeveloped in my opinion since random elements appear in the storyline with barely any logic. Lim’s writing style is decently descriptive and helps to make up for some of the missing elements, but there are still many scenes that “tell” rather than “show.” Also, as a YA fantasy novel, this book uses many common cliches and YA tropes. Maia seems to fall right into the mold of the simple young adult female protagonist, and her character feels flat.
Even the romance aspect of this book is underwhelming. While not entirely unpleasant, it once again seems basic and cliche. About halfway through the novel, Maia’s relationship overtakes the plotline and shifts the focus away from Maia and her quest. The obstacles and problems of Maia’s journey become completely sidelined and are dealt with too quickly, producing a lackluster effect on a mission that is supposed to be engrossing and filled with formidable hardships.
One plus, though, is the cover. I usually dislike book covers that depict the character, but this cover is gorgeously made and a large part of the reason why I even picked it up. All in all, this book is an entertaining read, but it fails to live up to my original expectations due to the writing style and underdeveloped story. —Review by Ananya B. ‘23