Reviews

Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim (Book 2)

# of Pages: 351

Time it took me to read: 1 Day

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 50

Rating: 4 out of 5

NOTE: This review will have spoilers from here on out. If you haven’t read the Spin the Dawn and plan to, I recommend skipping this review entirely. I’ll be back soon with fresh, spoiler free reviews. You’ve been warned 🙂

Maia Tamarin has already proven herself to be the greatest master tailor in all of A’landi. But in order to save her true love, Edan, from becoming the demon guardian of Lapzur, Maia has made a bargain with a demon and with the moon goddess herself that she will take his place so long as Edan is free.

Now, alone at the palace, Maia waits for the shensen’s daughter, Lady Sarnai, to wed the emperor. This wedding will preserve the delicate peace in the land after the war between the shensen and the emperor. But when things don’t go exactly as planned, Maia is forced to flee, on the run from the emperor as well as the shensen.

Maia must find a way to stop darkness from ripping apart her beloved land, all while fighting against the darkness rising within herself. But how long can she run from an enemy that seeks to destroy her from within?

Review:

Like its predecessor, this book came at just the right time. I just finished slogging my way through an absolute beast of a Sci-Fi for book club (see my review of Red Rising), and I’m really trying hard to get back into my reading habit, and Unravel the Dusk made it easy. I read the whole thing in 24 hours, without even trying that hard.

I’ve read a lot of great books this year, but usually the ones I end up enjoying the most are a little beefier and heavier on the fantasy aspect, which this one is not. But that’s not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy this book.

Maia is a great character. She’s noble, self-sacrificing, exactly the kind of protagonist you want to root for. And she made things really tough on herself. In this book, she literally had enemies attacking her from ALL sides. She promised to be in the emperor’s service, but then she has to leave, so he’s hunting her. The shensen is basically a demon himself, and know’s what she’s becoming, so he’s hunting her. And then there’s Baldur, the demon who forced her into swearing an oath to become the new demon guardian of Lapzur. And he’s all up in her head trying to get her to come back to Lapzur like, right now, so he can be free. And then there’s the fact that she’s actually turning into a demon more and more every day, so she’s got this demon voice inside her head, that is her own voice, telling her to submit and use the demon magic that is fueled by rage and vengeance but will only make her lose herself even faster. So she’s got a lot to deal with, and I think this final book in the series did a good job of making sure all of the enemies were fully vanquished by the end.

And then of course there’s Edan. No longer the all powerful enchanter he once was, he is still fiercely loyal and heart-meltingly loving to Maia. Even though in this book I feel like he is much more of a plot device in some ways, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because okay, hear me out.

So Maia basically made this decision to become a demon and take Baldur’s place because of her love for Edan. It was a decision made selflessly, but specifically to save one person, this boy she loves. Which is great, I love a good romance. But it would have been real easy for this book to basically have the theme “she sacrificed it all for true love, and in the end true love saved her”. I’ve read that book before, I’ve loved books like that. BUT. Elizabeth Lim made it so that every battle she had to fight, every obstacle she had to overcome, she did it herself. Edan was by her side for a lot of it, but she certainly had to fight her own battles and win in her own way. Particularly the war against herself, against losing everything she is to the demon. She fights that ever page of the book, and while love of Edan is a big factor in why she doesn’t give in, he’s not the only thing. She fights for her brother and her father, for her friend Ammi, for Lady Sarnai and her army, for her country. But mostly she fights for herself. Because she is a good person who is strong and even though any second of any day she could completely give in to the demon and feel no more pain, no more human emotion, and become all powerful, she fights that. So when she wins, and she does fully win in the end, it feels like she really earned it. I wasn’t expecting that and I really liked it.

I’ll quickly cover the things I usually do, pacing, world building, characters, style, etc. But there is very little else to say that I didn’t already say in my initial review of the first book, so head over to that review if you want more detail. Pacing is fast, as I mentioned I blew through this book and it did not feel like a hard push. World building is pretty good, I was really sucked into the land and immersed.

The one thing I’ll mention is that there are pretty much no rules to her magic system here. Elizabeth Lim has magic behave pretty much how she wants it, and you’ll just have to deal with it. It didn’t particularly bother me, since it’s not like this book takes itself particularly seriously anyway, but it did make me raise my eyebrows every now and again because I’m used to reading fantasy where worldbuilding is everything and the magic is very regulated and well explained. Not here. The reader needs to know what’s going on somewhere that Maia isn’t actually at? No problem, Maia has “demon vision” that takes over every now and again and shows her events that are important for her to see. That’s just one example too. Kinda funny.

I talked about characters already, Maia is pretty much the only actual complex character, but as I explained, I loved so much how much this book was about her struggle and her triumph, I didn’t mind pretty much everyone else being a plot device. I like the style, it’s “easy-breezy fantasy” that doesn’t take itself seriously, which is great especially after that heavy Sci-Fi I just read.

Once again I left a star off because I liked it pretty much exactly the same amount as I liked the first book, and once again no special “X Factor” to shoot it up to a perfect score. But a really solid 4 that I’d highly recommend to anyone who likes lighthearted fantasy romances.

The last thing I’ll mention, and it’s not necessarily a critique, but I’d be remiss if I skipped over the deus ex machina. For those of you unfamiliar, a quick lesson: deus ex machina originated as a device in ancient Greek theatre. In that sense, it describes when something, usually a god or a mythical creature appears at the end of the play to resolve the ending. For example, in Euripides’ Medea, Medea kills her children to get revenge on her scheming husband, and when it appears she will be killed for her crimes, a sun dragon appears and Medea rides off on it, escaping the consequences and denying her husband his revenge upon her.

Anyway, nowadays it’s mostly a device used in storytelling when a seemingly hopeless situation is quickly and conveniently solved at the end by a highly unlikely occurrence. In this case, Maia knows that if she destroys all of the dresses that she made in the previous book, which are connected to her body, mind, and heart, she will die. Those dresses are her life force. But the only way to win in the end is to sacrifice herself by destroying the last dress. So she should have died. And she kind of did, but then she goes up to heaven(?) and talks to her mom, who says the moon goddess is granting her the choice to go and live on earth with her dad, brother, and the boy she loves. Or she can become tailor to the gods and be with her dead mom and brothers. Yeah, seems kinda obvious what you’d pick. So she gets brought back to life with absolutely no consequences for her actions. A very convenient happy ending. But you know what? Not mad about it, because as I said, she works very hard to defeat all of her damn enemies, so I think she deserves a happy ending, no matter how suspiciously convenient it is.

And that’s it! Check out the series, it’s only two books, they’re really short and fun to read. See ya’ll next time!

If you liked Unravel the Dusk, try:

Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Defy by Sara B. Larson

Reviews

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim (Book 1)

# of Pages: 387

Time it took me to read: 3 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 55

Rating: 4 out of 5

Maia Tamarin is the fourth child of one of the greatest tailors in A’landi, and the most talented of her siblings. But as the only daughter, she is forbidden from taking ownership of her father’s shop and fulfilling her dreams of being a master tailor. Until one day when a messanger comes from the palace, wishing to take her father to the emperor to become a royal tailor. Maia’s father is too sick, and her brother has nowhere near her skill. So with the gift of her grandmother’s scissors and the blessing of her father, she disguises herself as one of her brothers and is off to the palace.

When she arrives, she finds that she will be pitted against eleven other master tailors for the honor of being the new imperial tailor. The tasks are set and judged by the future empress, Lady Sarnai, who is known for her harsh judgement. Maia knows that she has what it takes to fill the role, despite being a woman, and is willing to risk everything, including exposure, to bring this honor to her family.

But what she doesn’t expect is to gain the attention of Edan, the Emperor’s Lord Enchanter. Somehow he seems to see right through her, though to anyone else she seems to be the unremarkable son of a tailor. However, when Lady Sarnai sets a seemingly impossible final task, Maia’s only hope is to team up with Edan to complete gowns known only in legend.

Note:

Hi friends, normally in this situation I’d write a review along with a summary of this book, since it’s the first in a series. However, since the second book is out already and I intend on reading it soon, I’m going to skip the summary, because they honestly take me forever to write and I’d rather just write a simple review for this book. But the good news is that this post will be entirely spoiler-free, so I hope you enjoy!

Review:

I’d like to start out by saying that this book was the breath of fresh air that I needed. Because the last few books I’ve read have either been heavy but wonderful (read Chain of Iron) or lighter but not that enjoyable (the last two books I’ve read for book club). But this month’s book club book was a great pick by my friend Dani. In just one sentence, the reason I liked this book so much was because it was easy breezy fantasy with a romance you’re rooting for and a fast paced, engaging plot.

So let’s break this down. We’ll start with what I mean when I say “easy breezy fantasy”. Much of YA fantasy these days I find gets really into intense world building with really intense fantasy themes, such as leading a rebellion or trying to save a kingdom from eternal darkness, etc. But this story is just about a girl who wants to be a master tailor, despite being forbidden because she’s a woman. And then the girl falls in love with a boy she isn’t supposed to have, and the follow up story is all about how they can go about being together. No super intense themes, just a super chill Mulan-meets-Project-Runway vibe.

I’ll talk about the cast just briefly, because they were certainly not particularly remarkable. Maia is the kind of protagonist that you root for right away. She’s lovably naive but fiercely determined, a winning combo for a YA protagonist, if not a particularly original one. There are “villains” working against her at every turn, I do sort of like the idea that there is no single antagonist that she’s going head to head against. And I’ll just briefly mention Edan, Maia’s charming partner in crime. They’ve got that fun back-and-forth banter going on throughout, and great adventure-partner chemistry. The two of them are enjoyable to read about from the beginning of their journey to the end.

Finally, to end my high notes I’ll take a paragraph to talk about plot and pacing. As I talked about a little bit above, the basic plot of this is like a mix of Mulan, Project Runway, with a little dash of Aladdin/Genie for flavor. None of the bits separately are particularly original, but the combination of them certainly is. I will say that I think the blurb on the back of the book was a little bit misleading, because I thought the Project Runway storyline was going to last longer, but the book has a lot more to offer beyond just that competition aspect, I’ll leave it at that to avoid any spoilers. And because there was so many different plot pieces in a book that isn’t even 400 pages, that meant the pacing had to be quick to fit everything in, which I was into because the last few books I’ve read have not been particularly fast paced, which I’m often fine with but I needed something fast paced and light to help me get back into a reading run.

To finish off the review, I’ll talk a little about why I left off a star. For me, a five star read has to be something that really hits on all cylinders, is entirely enjoyable to read, and usually has some sort of X factor. This book didn’t really have anything that I could fault, besides being a little tropey and cheesy at times (which in my opinion is usually not a fault), but it certainly didn’t have anything that screamed X factor. It is a thoroughly enjoyable story that I am excited to read the sequel to, but I’m not rushing out to my local bookstore to buy it right away or agonizing over having to wait, so this one is a solid four for me.

End Review

If you liked Spin the Dawn, try:

Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

The Glass Spare by Lauren Destefano

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngun