Synopsis (From Goodreads)
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.
Mad Scibrarian’s note: I think the next part of the synopsis is a bit too spoiler-y, so I am inserting a warning. It gives some detail for a part of the book that doesn’t come up until about 40% of the way through it. However, it is also part of the original synopsis from the publisher, and I don’t want to leave it out if you prefer to read the whole thing.
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.
5 out 5 stars
The blurb of “Mulan meets Project Runway” doesn’t quite do this book justice, though I’m sure it piques your attention. It’s Mulan-inspired in that the main character, Maia, pretends to be a boy in order to compete in a trial to become the Royal Tailor. Maia’s dream is to be a great tailor, and she already has a lot of developed talent from working in her father’s shop. Girls aren’t allowed to be tailors, however, so that’s where the need to disguise oneself as a boy comes in. To compete in this trial is not all just for Maia; it is also so Maia can support her family and compete in her ailing father’s and crippled brother’s place. I liked that Maia wasn’t just in it just for herself. She is willing to take a risk on her dreams to save her family. That’s what really makes the book similar to Mulan. As for Project Runway, well, it’s a competition to become the Royal Tailor, so obviously Maia and the other contestants have to put together some amazing fashion pieces. I can’t comment much else because I’ve never actually have seen Project Runway, but I think this book is probably much better than the terrors of reality TV drama.I actually really enjoyed this book and I am happy to have read it.
The competition plot was a lot of fun to read. The character who comes up with the trials is pretty imaginative and no-nonsense, so the trials really put Maia and the other tailors to a test. While competing, Maia has to overcome the barriers of being from a poorer family (most of the other tailors are quite wealthy) and also hiding the fact that she is a girl. The girl disguising herself as a boy is one of my favorite troupes, but Maia’s struggles are more due to the fact she is poor and also the youngest competitor. Not all of the other tailors play nice. The plot overall moves quickly, so nothing ever becomes stale. Gradually, more magic and worldbuilding is introduced throughout the story, which I think will keep you reading.
As for the characters, I did really like Maia, as I briefly covered above; she is a strong female character fighting for both her dreams and her family. She is determined to prove herself as a tailor, and though she has to pretend to be male in order to do it, she knows it’ll be worth it if she can succeed. It was nice that her family supports her dreams, and that her dad would let her practice tailoring even though she was a girl. The other tailors are mostly there as antagonists. Maia does make a few friends amongst the competition, which is nice to have variety and a little bit of support. Lastly, the court magician, Edan, comes off as pretty mysterious and you’ll probably want to read more about him. He is one of the few enchanters of this world, and maybe has some answers for Maia when she needs it most.
If I have one slight criticism, it would be the romance. It’s only slight because I really just did not feel one way or another toward it. I was not rooting for the pairing nor was I fighting against it. It wasn’t instalove or anything like that. I guess I felt the romance was there because all YA titles seem to need to have a romance, and while it was not a bad execution, it also was not very different or gripping. It’s just the first book of a trilogy (I think), so things could certainly develop or take off in other directions, which could make the romance something that tugs more at my heart.
I recommend if you’re looking for a fast-paced, Chinese-inspired YA fantasy with a strong heroine pretending to be a boy tossed into a tough competition and finding romance and magic along the way.
I received a free eARC via Netgalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
See this review on Goodreads.