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.
Normally, the word ‘Mulan’ is enough to tempt me to start a book. But then you add ‘Project Runway’ to it? Color me intrigued. Besides Mulan, I could also find elements from stories of ‘Aladdin’ to ‘Spirited Away’. There are other myths explored in this novel, mainly from Chinese origins. I particularly liked the re-imagination of the silk road.
The beginning was promising. I found myself invested in Maia and her family very fast. Her family slowly descends towards its ruins, after she loses her mother, and her brothers to the war. It’s the same war that forces the emperor to marry the enemy’s daughter as a truce. And to please his bride, he arranges a competition for her to choose her master tailor.
Maia’s father is also summoned to participate in the competition or send his son to represent him. But her father is a mere shadow of his former self from a series of emotional loss, and her brother unskilled in the family business. It had long before fallen upon Maia to take on the reins as the main tailor in the family business.
We move to the castle when Maia goes to the castle disguised as her brother, a capital crime. I enjoyed the competition with all the mysteries, the competitors, the politics, and the details of all the dressmaking. I was also torn between feeling sympathy and suspicion towards the princess who’s forced to wed her enemy and does everything in her capacity to delay the wedding. The best part of the book came at the end of the first part where the author totally subverted my expectations by doing the unexpected.
The pace slowed down a lot in the second part, with Maia going on an unimaginable journey in order to collect the materials to make an impossible wedding gown for the future empress. I found my attention wavering from here on. I also could not find myself invested in the romance between Maia and Edan. It’s probably because I just could not find Edan’s whole character arc to be unconvincing from the start. But my loyalty towards Maia remained constant throughout the book. I loved her courage, vulnerabilities and mostly the conviction of following her heart.
Although the pace picked up in the third and final part, and there were some very unpredictable twists, my interest could not be restored to what it was at the beginning. I also have qualms about how someof the plot unfolded. Some resolutions felt unearned. I’d really like to vent about them but can’t because of the spoilers. But I’m hoping that the second book will give us better explanations to, though. And I’m certainly interested in reading the sequel because of how the book ended.
It’s interesting if you look at my breakdown of rating for the three parts of the book –
5- stars for the first part, 3-stars for the second part, and 4 stars for the third part. Heh.