I’m in love.
I preordered this book on my birthday, June 10th, without really knowing what I was getting into – I’d seen the cover a couple of times, and followed the author on Twitter, and it seemed like a nice and fun book for the summer. I wasn’t disappointed : it arrived at my local Chapters on Thursday (I skipped my lunch break to bike to the store in 40°C weather to go get that book before it closed for the day) and I just couldn’t put it down once I started reading.
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.
On Goodreads, this book is described as “Project runway meets Mulan“, but I’d like to offer a different comparaison – Mulan meets the tailor’s version of Donkeyskin. If you don’t know what Donkeyskin is, there’s some information in English on its Wikipedia page, but the most important part is this :
She (the princess) went to her fairy godmother who advised her to make impossible demands as a condition of her consent: a dress as bright as the sun, a dress the colors of the moon, a dress all the colors of the sky, and finally, the hide of his marvelous donkey (which produced gold, and thus was the source of his kingdom’s wealth). Such was the king’s desire to marry her that he granted all of them.
In the classic french tale, the king’s tailors work day and night to satisfy the princess’s demands – even though she doesn’t actually want them to succeed. Maia, for the most part of the book, does her best to obey her emperor’s commands, and sew the three magic gowns (three, like in Donkeyskin ! … sorry, I just really love that fairytale) he has asked from her.
What I liked
The writing is really smooth, and once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down anymore. The romance felt natural, and was very well done – I’m a sucker for a good enemies-to-friends-to-lovers trope…and some fake dating on top of that !
I got attached really easily to Maia and her desire to protect and support her family, and Edan’s backstory was very original and really interesting. The pretending-to-be-a-boy part was quite stressful, but had some pretty funny moments too (like Maia being the only one able to walk easily in her glass slippers, while all her male competitors struggled to take a few steps…), and I’m excited to see what will happen next !
The world-building is very well done, and I especially appreciated learning about the rules of magic in A’landi, and the mythology behind the story of the three dresses of Amara.
What I didn’t like
Almost nothing. I wish we would have gotten to see more of the Lady Sarnai, who seems like a really complex and interesting character, but I’m guessing we’ll get all of that in the next book in the series, so it’s not a big negative point. Some plot points were left unresolved, but again – this isn’t a standalone, so I didn’t read it as one, and won’t judge it as one.
Definitely one of my top 3 books of the year so far, 10/10 would recommend. If you like fairytales, brave women who fight for what they believe in, and creative magic, you absolutely need to get your hands on a copy of this book.