Genre: YA fantasy
Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.
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.
Narrated by Kim Mai Guest: the soft voice fits the protagonist so well and the storytelling was amazing, like the slight change of her voice as the protagonists tried to mask as a boy. It seemed like a difficult task and she nailed it.
Rating out of five: three
From about 30% in to 70% in, I was considering not picking this book back up. It just lacked something for me, that drive that makes me want to know more about how it’s going to end for the characters.
I think the publisher selling this book as the crossway between Project Runway and Mulan isn’t right for this book. It’s definitely got elements of both of those, with there being a competition to be the imperial tailor (instantly reminding me of the assassin competition in Throne of Glass) and the protagonist having to mask as a boy to be able to participate and restore her family’s honor. The problem is that Mulan’s story is so much better in every way. The romance is better, the bravery and single-mindedness of Mulan is better, it’s more exciting to read about fighting than tailoring and the training and close quarters leads naturally to more close-calls about Mulan’s identity. All the humor is stripped from this book. The short insults between the protagonist Maia and Edan tries to make up for it, but they’re more annoying and makes them seem more like siblings than romantically interested. I really disliked that romance, even though it’s not as forced or badly handled as it could’ve been.
I like the characters of Maia, as I like Eden in himself, but as a protagonist she doesn’t move the plot forward. It’s okay to be inexperienced and elegant, but she seems to be able to take tough choices like dress up as a guy and risk her life, and then falls into this role of needing guidance on much smaller issues. I think it’s given too much thought that she can’t be a much better tailor than old men with long careers and be able to figure things out on her own, but as a consequence Edan and the masters are guiding her every move. She never has that breaking point where she sits down and worried about how to do something, the solution is always given to her. This book just lacks that level of conflict, there’s this big threat of being killed hanging over her, but everything else goes her way. And in that it becomes predictable.
This book has a shift about 60% in where Maia goes on a journey and it becomes more magical and has that classical fantasy journey to gather supplies. Still she’s being led around by Edan, but she’s also has to find strength within herself to complete the tasks and FINALLY we’re seeing some character development. *imagine me raising my hands in victory while reading those parts* At the end of the book I nearly convinced myself I liked it, hadn’t it been so slow and lacking in the beginning. While I feel it gives the book a tougher starting point, I really like the tailor aspects and the descriptions of her craft. Sometimes I felt the garments wasn’t described well enough, but at the same time the competition took forever and became boring. Remember the parts of Project Runway with the judges critique that you skip?
I would recommend to give this book a try if you really want to.
Feelings reading this book: (yes, we’re bringing this back again) frustration, oh calm meditational stitching, frustration, bored.