Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job. Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise. And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.
Tags: Asian Fantasy, YA, Chinese, Handcraft, Sewing, Asian Food, Forbidden Romance, Fable, Magic, Competition, Grief, Adventure, Mulan
Publication date: 09 July 2019
(I voluntarily requested this book and, thanks to Knopf Books for Young Readers, NetGalley and Caffeine Book Tours, I received a free e-copy in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinions on the book.)
This is truly the year of Asian fiction, eh? From Spin the Dawn to The Gilded Wolves to We Hunt the Flame to Ayesha At Last, these are just a few in the sudden explosion of all things Asian! There are still so many upcoming titles lined up, I’m excited!
Today’s post is on Spin the Dawn, a Chinese folklore-inspired fantasy with crafts, magic and danger woven in. The author has chosen to tell the story amidst an age where sexism was more prevalent(then again, when was there ever a time when sexism didn’t exist, hmm?) and a female protagonist who is strong without having to be masculine(though she did have to go undercover as a man).
The pacing was somewhat fast, months pass in the span of this entire book, and while I understand the author for not including insubstantial scenes but I’d have liked it to be a little slower. Weeks and months may have passed for the characters but us readers are experiencing this in just a few days, so it does feel kind of rushed. Which also makes what was a delectable slow-burn romance to a medium-paced one(that’s just my opinion though. I think most of you will ship them hard :D). That being said, the tug and pull of the magnetic love between the two characters still made me swoon!
(My dream cast for Maia and Edan. Look at that coat with its fine cut and detailing!)
I love stories where characters go on a journey together, there’s so many variables and unforeseen events that make it so exciting to read and Spin the Dawn delivered! I do wish there was more visible magic though. I’m also a bit confused about the character names, they’re not very Chinese-sounding. I think they’re influenced by English with its roots in Cantonese, more like.
But the best part about the book, guys, was the FOOD! Omg, the food mentioned sounded so 香/xiang(meaning ‘fragrant’)! I was itching to replicate them all! Scroll down to see the recipe section of this post 🍜
And oh, the sewing and dresses! The way they were gloriously described, I was in awe. Such delicate finery and deft craftsmanship, you can’t help but respect it. I love that Elizabeth Lim has written a story revolving around a handcraft as I, myself, have an affinity to making things by hand(not sewing though!).
I think this was pretty good for a debut novel, although not too original in its plot. Nevertheless, Spin the Dawn can make you feel sad for Maia’s family, swoon at the love interest, mesmerized by the fine craftwork mentioned and hungry for the simple but sumptious food. Definitely hungry.
Here are a few recipes that I found of some of the mouth-watering edibles peppered throughout the story(after going through these I noticed that there are quite a few from the Cantonese cuisine):
A soft and white bun stuffed with a smooth and slightly sweet red bean paste. I believe this is an altered version of the original red bean bun, which is called ‘Dou Bao/豆包’ and is made with cornmeal instead of white flour.
A steaming bowl of fragrant and spicy beef noodles in hot broth, LanZhou La Mian/LanZhou Hand-Pulled Noodles is one of the most popular noodles in China. The one in Spin the Dawn could be hand-pulled noodles with other flavors but I’m going to go with this delicious favorite. God, now I want a bowl myself!
This looks decidely western and I doubt it was around in historical times, so maybe I got the wrong milk bread mentioned in the book but it is a modern Chinese bread that Chinese people enjoy(they seem to like soft, sweet buns a lot!).
Maia’s favorite! It’s very similar to the Red Bean Bun, except with a a mildly sweet lotus seed paste. The link is for the paste and you can follow the same recipe for the red bean bun, substituting the filling with this one.
Guys, if there is one recipe you need to try out of all of these, it’s this! Winter Melon Soup is like the chicken soup remedy you have for colds or for warming up when winter arrives. It’s nutritious, versatile and very forgiving to make! There are quite a lot of versions; winter melon with meatballs, chicken, shrimp and mushroom just to name the most common variations. The link is for pork meatballs, and if you’re a Muslim, like me, you can use chicken or other choices of meat(with some fat ratio in it to give it more flavor and moisture). And if you’re vegetarian/vegan, don’t fret! You can add shiitake mushrooms(or any mushroom of your liking) or wood ear(also known as ‘black agaric’) or noodles(I LOVE glass noodles), and use vegetable broth for the base! Depending on the ingredients, this soup can be so healthy.
An easier/lazier version of this soup that I usually make is to fry around 10 pcs of Szechuan peppercorn, add the winter melon, fry for 2 mins and add water. Then I add some chicken bouillion(you can use any stock cubes of your choice), boil till the melon’s done(almost translucent) and add some chopped coriander leaves and salt to taste. Sometimes, I add a bundle of glass noodles nearly towards the end as it doesn’t require long to cook. And that’s it!
As you can already tell, it’s not really a ‘cake’ but more like jelly. It’s like turkish sweets but without the outer layer of cornstarch and is less gelatinous/springy. These light, sweet delicacies look really pretty, don’t they? The star ingredient is its starch that’s made from water chestnuts(make sure you use pure water chestnut starch!).
Another simple comfort food that warms and energizes! Chunks of chicken and white rice boiled in a savory broth, topped with fragrant scallions, this is another well-loved Chinese food!
Parental Guidance: 13+
Violence – Arson, fights, wild animals fighting, birds being hunted
Sex – One implicit sex scene
Religion – Set in a world where there is more than one God and they possess human instincts and qualities (is that Paganism?)
Profanity – Mild
Recommended for: Asian readers and those who like the usual YA fantasy plots and fable-inspired stories. Also for those who like books with good food and exquisite crafting.
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, “Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that’s kinda cool!” But after one of her teachers told her she had “too much voice” in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English.
Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel — for kicks, at first, then things became serious — and she hasn’t looked back since.
Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.
Prize: Three (3) finished copies of Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim (3 winners)
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Click here to enter the giveaway!
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Don’t forget to check out all the other amazing and creative posts on this blog tour by other bloggers! You can check them out in the tour schedule here: