YA Weekend: Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 2 of The Blood of Stars
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (July 7, 2020)
Length: 416 pages
I know I can be pretty picky when it comes to YA, but last year Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim was one of the handful that impressed me, and as soon as the details for Unravel the Dusk was revealed, I knew I needed to get my hands on this sequel.
By the way, since this book is the second half of a duology, readers should be caught up first and be advised that this review may reveal possible spoilers for the previous novel. To recap, our protagonist Maia Tamarin is a girl from a family of tailors who had to take on the duties of caring for her family after her mother died, her father grew sick, and the war took away one of her brothers and left the other maimed. In order to win the prestigious role of royal tailor, Maia disguised herself as a boy and entered a competition at the palace, with the judged being the emperor’s bride-to-be, Lady Sarnai. However, the challenges of the contest were difficult, with some bordering on the impossible. Still, with a little help from her family magic as well as a court enchanter named Edan, Maia was able to succeed and win.
Now though, the true test of wills begins. Despite all her hard work to keep the empire from descending into total war, Maia returns from her perilous journey to find everything in chaos. The emperor’s marriage, which was supposed to bring the peace that was promised, is now in jeopardy, causing the kingdoms to again mobilize their troops. Edan, with whom Maia had grown close to and fallen in love is unfortunately far from her and unable to help. To stave off the violence for as long as possible, Maia devises a dangerous plan which would require her to don a disguise once more—this time, as the emperor’s own fiancée, Lady Sarnai. But believe it or not, pulling off this deception is the least of her worries. For within Maia, a malevolent force has been fighting for release ever since she was touched by a demon and tainted with its essence. With each passing day, she fears that she will finally lose the battle, destroying herself and putting her friends and loved ones at risk.
Unravel the Dusk continues to deliver the goods, offering magic, intrigue, and adventure. The scope of the plot has also exploded to become something much bigger—and not just in terms of intricacy and detail. Compared to the previous book, which mostly focused on Maia’s personal challenges and her own goals, everything she does in this one affects so much more than herself. It is not an exaggeration to say the entire empire now rests on her ability to impersonate Lady Sarnai, a harsh and caustic woman so very different from earnest and kind-hearted Maia. Readers will also want to root for our protagonist to conquer the demon that threatens to devour her from within, not only because good needs to overcome evil, but because there is just so much wrongness to see such a pure soul corrupted.
Speaking of which, this sequel brought a lot of changes to our characters—mostly good ones. I think some will be disappointed that we don’t get as of Edan in this book, especially given the tender and passionate way their romance developed in the first one. Personally though, I didn’t mind his absence too much. I felt it gave Maia a chance to work things out on her own, making me appreciate her independence and strength all the more. Besides, Edan does show up again later on, and believe me, you’ll end up getting your fill of swoon. We also see changes in the dynamics between Maia and other characters, including Ammi, a servant girl at the palace whom she befriended, as well as Lady Sarnai, who I was surprised to find I didn’t hate as much this time around.
As for criticisms, I don’t have any major ones, but the pacing for certain parts of the story felt a bit off. The intro, for example, felt like it flew by in a blur, leaving me with questions and confusion. Of course, while feeling rushed is still far better than the opposite, which is feeling bored because of slow pacing, there should be a balance. When comparing the first few chapters to the rest of the novel, the difference is clear. The sections after Maia and Ammi go on the run are given much more attention than everything that came before, and considering how the latter provides the setup, I think the beginning should have been more fleshed out.
But all told, I have to say The Blood of Stars duology is one of the most well-written and outstanding YA books I’ve read in years and I think Elizabeth Lim is well on her way to making a name for herself. I look forward to her future projects.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Spin the Dawn (Book 1)