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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Unravel The Dusk by Elizabeth Lim (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)


Official Author Website
Pre-order the book HERE
Read Caitlin’s review of Spin The Dawn

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars. Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and she turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel -- for kicks, at first, then things became serious -- and she hasn't looked back since.

Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She grew up in Northern California, with a brief stint in Tokyo, Japan, but now lives in New York City with her husband and their daughter.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Maia Tamarin’s journey to sew the dresses of the sun, the moon and the stars has taken a grievous toll. She returns to a kingdom on the brink of war. The boy she loves is gone, and she is forced to don the dress of the sun and assume the place of the emperor’s bride-to-be to keep the peace.

But the war raging around Maia is nothing compared to the battle within. Ever since she was touched by the demon Bandur, she has been changing . . . glancing in the mirror to see her own eyes glowing red, losing control of her magic, her body, her mind. It’s only a matter of time before Maia loses herself completely, but she will stop at nothing to find Edan, protect her family, and bring lasting peace to her country.

FORMAT/INFO: Unravel The Dusk will be published on July 7th, 2020 by Knopf Books For Young Readers. It is 368 pages split over thirty-five chapters, written in three parts. It is told in first person from the POV of Maia. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Maia has done the impossible. She's won her place as the emperor's tailor, despite the fact that traditionally only men are allowed to hold the position. To do so, she had to travel the kingdom to collect three magical ingredients to make three magical dresses. Along the way, Maia discovered she had a magical gift of her own, an ability to wield a pair of magical scissors that had been in her family for generations. But most importantly, she discovered that Edan, a powerful magician aiding Maia in her quest - and the boy she had fallen in love with - had been magically bound for centuries to serve the throne. Maia found a way to break that bond, but the cost was accepting Edan's punishment for breaking his oath: Maia is becoming a demon. Now, Maia is struggling to resist the change and remain human just a few days longer to ensure that the royal wedding happens, thus bringing an end to the war that has already killed two of her brothers. But when events shatter all hopes of peace, Maia might have to turn to the darkness within her to protect the kingdom, sacrificing her humanity so that the ones she loves are spared.

Unravel The Dusk is a satisfying conclusion to the adventure begun in Spin The Dawn, even if it didn't manage to charm me as much as the first book. Unravel The Dusk feels like it is broken into two completely different halves. There are some high stakes, intriguing elements at the beginning of the tale as Maia tries her best to ensure that the wedding between the emperor and Lady Sarnai, daughter of the shansen (warlord) engaged in conflict with the kingdom, goes off smoothly so that the war will finally come to an end. But the pacing moved at lightning speed, rushing through some critical moments that I thought deserved more time. Maia's struggle with her slow loss of humanity felt superficial, and to be fair, she is still mostly human at the beginning of the book. Nonetheless, I wasn't emotionally invested in Maia's plight right off the bat, which left me struggling to connect with the story.

The other factor that made the book initially difficult to get into was that Edan, the dashing Lord Enchanter who Maia risked everything to free, was largely absent for the first half of the book. The chemistry and romance between Edan and Maia was a large part of why Spin The Dawn worked, and the absence of that pairing was definitely felt. Once the two are reunited, however, the book takes a change for the better.

Eventually, however, the pace settles down as the story focuses on defeating the shansen and the magical forces he has called to his aid. Edan's in-person appearance well and truly marks a turning point for the book, and it becomes much stronger in the second half. We get to spend time with Maia and Edan as Maia reckons with the cost this war might have on her personally. Maia's struggle with her demon side becomes less abstract as she loses control of her mind and body. The way the author writes these moments from Maia's POV do a wonderful job of conveying her growing anger and confusion as human memories slip away, and Maia's internal war to cling to what humanity she has left becomes much more real.

I would also be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to Lady Sarnai, who really gets to come into her own in Unravel The Dusk. In Spin The Dawn, Lady Sarnai was mostly relegated to the role of the cold-hearted bride-to-be who made unreasonable demands. But as events unfold, we get to know Lady Sarnai and her history better, and she proves to be a calculating and accomplished warrior, unconcerned with being "likable" and instead focusing on surviving and winning. Her large role in the second half of the book is yet another reason why I found myself enjoying the tale much more by that point.

CONCLUSION: Unravel The Dusk may rush its beginning, but it sticks the landing in the end. There are some truly beautiful scenes, and I'm glad for the time I spent with this duology. With demonic fights and battles for the fate of the kingdom, it's an epic conclusion to a story that began with a young girl's dream to be the emperor's tailor.

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