By Cynthia Bujnicki
Maia dreams of being the imperial tailor, but as a girl, her best option is to marry well. However, when a royal messenger comes for her ailing father, Maia steps up and pretends to be her brother to enter in his name. However, when backstabbing and lies threaten to drag her down to the dungeons, Maia soon learns that the shears her father gave her have magic and power in them that could save her future and secure peace in the land.
What an excellent novel. The publisher description labeled this novel as “Project Runway meets Mulan,” which already makes the novel interesting, especially when one thinks about these two concepts individually. Designing clothes, even though it seems to be a male-dominated enterprise, is often regarded as a more feminine concept. So that fact that this novel has Maia disguise herself as a man to enter a tailoring contest is already quite intriguing. It takes reality and constricts it into this mold that determines the worth of a woman in this world that Lim has created.
However, that is only one aspect of the novel that Lim has created as she goes from realism to the magical. Lim slowly incorporates the mysticism and magic into the tale as she goes into the storytelling. Maia has a pair of magic tailoring scissors that help her create beautiful things. However, Maia does not trust magic. The war and loss she has suffered have disillusioned her, and her beliefs make it seem as though magic is wrong. However, then it becomes the one thing that could save her.
It is an interesting take that takes her on a journey through the world. It is an eye-opening journey that lends itself to fantastic character development on Maia’s part. Maia goes from thinking the world operates in one way, to find a way to live in it in another way. Edan, the court enchanter, also opens her mind in various ways. He has been alive for centuries and has seen the world and the way it changes, offering up a new perspective to the world. It brings history to the tale, history that has been long forgotten and adds numerous layers to the story as it goes from a story about a girl entering a tailoring contest to a quest to create magical dresses.
Maia is not a complex character, but the level of depth from her narrative is compelling. She has the voice to carry the novel as she embarks on this journey to create these magical dresses, and each dress, each element brings about something different about herself that she must learn and face. These trials challenge her; they challenge her mind, body, and soul, and open different aspects of herself Maia did not know she had. It is a riveting journey that she goes on and her dynamics with Edan. They make such a great team, and Edan is such an enigmatic character. The way he moves and elevates the mystical part of the story perfectly balances out Maia’s realism.
Overall, it is quite an enjoyable novel. The magic that elevates the story and the way Lim intermingles aspects readers are familiar with make the story engaging. The whole story is a journey not just for the characters but for the reader as well. (★★★★☆)