Author: Elizabeth Lim
Series: The Blood of Stars, #2 (find my review of Book 1 here!)
Publication date: July 7, 2020
Genre: young adult fantasy
My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Spin the Dawn was one of my favorite books of last year, so I was beyond ecstatic when I was approved for the sequel on NetGalley. Unfortunately, while this was not necessarily a bad read, it pales in comparison to its predecessor, which made me a very disappointed K-Specks. Although still beautiful, Unravel the Dusk lacked the same magic and emotional pull that made me so enamored of Spin the Dawn.
So, quick summary: (warning: there are spoilers here for Spin the Dawn, though none for this book.)
At the end of Spin the Dawn, Maia was technically safe, as she had successfully managed to create all three of Amana’s dresses, with the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars, thus securing her role as the imperial tailor. However, that success came at a cost: she sold her soul to the demon Bandur to secure the freedom of Edan, the enchanter she loves. In an effort to keep Edan safe, Maia has sent him away, even as she finds herself slowly turning into a demon and the kingdom of A’landi teeters on the brink of war yet again. When the marriage of Lady Sarnai to Emperor Khanujin–a marriage that was supposed to create peace and avert the war–goes horribly wrong, Maia finds herself uniquely situated to resolve things…but only if she can delay her own transformation long enough to use her demonic powers for good. So begins another quest, to reunite with Edan, face Bandur, and hopefully save the kingdom.
Let’s start with the obvious: Elizabeth Lim is a tremendously talented writer. As in the first book, the language in this book is absolutely gorgeous, and even if the content did not always grip me, the words themselves positively sang. They were artful yet colloquial, poetic but never pretentious–a delicate balance, but Lim never faltered. The premise, too, was entirely fitting, an excellent continuation of the saga from the first book, that raised the stakes and tied up loose ends. Lim’s OwnVoices use of Chinese mythology and culture to shape this world brought the story to life, with vibrant details ranging from the elegant dresses to a fleet of enchanted folded cranes made of cloth. And even the pacing was done well–smooth, fast enough to hold interest, but slow enough to savor. On a purely technical level, everything in this book was done impeccably.
However, on a subjective level, the majority of the book was a slog for me. While in the first book, Maia was surrounded by other characters, her experiences colored by her interactions with them, much of this book was a solo adventure for her. True, she was accompanied at times by her friend Ammi, and she did reunite with Edan, but her relationships with them were stunted. Some of this was necessary–her demonic transformation made her cagey and reluctant to trust others, because she wanted to protect them–but for so much of the book, it was just her being filled with angst over her internal battle with the growing darkness inside of her. Instead of being fiercely independent but still healthy, she became destructively isolated, and it made her not just harder to root for, but harder to be invested in at all. And because she lacked further social support, there was nobody else for me as a reader to hold emotional ties to, either.
I think some of the disappointment here was also just in the nature of the book. As a sequel dealing with heavier themes, this is a darker tale: no Project Runway-esque fun here, and no joy of newfound love. The problem is that this dulled some of the lively sparkle that brought Spin the Dawn to life. There was nothing wrong with it, except that it was not what I expected, and felt like a disappointment as a result.
And then there is my last grievance: Edan. In the first book, the enchanter who could shapeshift into a hawk was a phenomenal character and an excellent complement to Maia, strong when she was uncertain and wise when she was naive. Yet in this book, with Maia’s increased independence, and with Edan’s magic decimated, he became unspeakably bland. His support for Maia was wonderful, but his actual personality became almost nothing beyond “the guy who loves her.” I always get frustrated when romances cause characters to lose their personalities, so…yeah, my frustration there should be obvious.
As a whole, this is a perfectly adequate sequel and, if you enjoyed Spin the Dawn, a worthwhile conclusion to the duology. It may not have been my favorite, but at the end of the day, especially by the end, it was a satisfying knot tying off the narrative threads. (And yes, that was a very clunky sewing metaphor. I will not apologize for art.)
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an eARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion!