This is going to come as a shock to you, but I attended a virtual launch event for Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong (where she was in conversation with fellow author Elizabeth Lim). As with Chloe’s event with Evelyn Skye, I wanted to make sure that I had read something of Elizabeth’s before attending the event. In this case, however, I made the curious decision to start with her sophomore duology Six Crimson Cranes rather than her debut duology The Blood of the Stars. It’s been about a month since I read the Six Crimson Cranes duology so I’m just going to review The Blood of the Stars duology now.

(Quick thoughts: Six Crimson Cranes was a stronger outing than its sequel The Dragon’s Promise. The story of book one flowed consistently and kept me enthralled, but the story of book two felt like there were a lot of climaxes and conclusions that took me out of the rhythm of the story. I’d rate book one at 4 stars and book two at 3 stars. I enjoyed Elizabeth’s debut duology more than her sophomore duology, but both were good.)

Spin the Dawn, book one in The Blood of the Stars duology, is described as Project Runway meets Mulan and do I really need to say more? The story follows Maia who pretends to be a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor in place of her elderly father (who was an incredibly talented tailor in his prime) and crippled brother (who did not inherit their father’s skills). The consequences are dire if she is found out, but she takes the risk anyways to pursue her dream of one day becoming the imperial tailor.

I will be very honest - I did not read past “Project Runway meets Mulan” when I was reading the synopsis of this book. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was a fantasy story full of forbidden magic and romance. Maia goes through a lot very early on in the story to get to the point where she has her Mulan moment and it’s incredibly heart-wrenching (nothing like the opening of Mulan!). But her love for her family, her willingness to do whatever it takes to protect them, and her determination to be the best she can be really gives off the same energy as Mulan and made me adore her fiercely.

As with Mulan, Maia is found out at one point and it’s a lot earlier than I had expected. Afterwards, she goes on an unexpected journey that is really the deviation point from the Mulan story. As she learns about what she can do and the magic that exists in the world she thought she knew, I found myself rooting urgently for her to complete her tasks.

Another moment of stark honesty - I do not remember how book one ends and book two begins because I read them back to back and it all blurs together. At some point, Maia’s country of A’landi falls back into civil war and that is the major plot point in Unravel the Dusk. Maia has to figure out how to use her unique set of skills (as well as some unexpected new skills) to help her country sew itself back together (pun completely intended).

The world building in this duology is breathtaking. Elizabeth wove together imagery that I never could have imagined prior. When Maia has to capture the “laughter of the sun, tears of the moon, and blood of the stars,” the skeptic in me had to wonder how this was 1) going to be done by the character and 2) going to be described by the author. But she pulled it off beautifully.

While there aren’t many female characters, the ones that we are introduced to are fierce and strong, all in different ways. It is refreshing to read about strong women who don’t have to harden themselves to still be strong. The patriarchy smashing in this book was absolutely chef’s kiss.

And the romance…ah, the romance. I’m a sucker for romance and there’s something extra special about a romance that has to be earned. Not in an excruciating slow burn kind of way, but in a way where there are obstacles that stand in their way and sometimes those obstacles are themselves. 

Spin the Dawn and Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim are available wherever you get your books.