Unravel the Dusk is a very different story from Spin the Dawn, for better and for worse

Photo: Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim. Image Courtesy Penguin Random House
Photo: Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim. Image Courtesy Penguin Random House /

Though it concludes the story of Spin the Dawn, Elizabeth Lim’s Unravel the Dusk is very much a different sort of book from its predecessor. And that’s both a good and bad thing.

Spin the Dawn, the first novel in Elizabeth Lim’s debut “Blood of Stars” duology, was a magical quest story, as our heroine hid her identity, battled messy court politics, and made three impossible dresses imbued with the power of a goddess to save her kingdom. The novel felt like a breath of fresh air in the YA fantasy landscape, and readers everywhere were left breathlessly anticipating the series’ conclusion.

Sequel Unravel the Dusk does its best to wrap up the story of Maia Tamarin, and for the most part, the story succeeds. After all, the pieces have been put into place for an epic conclusion – Maia has basically sold her soul to a demon, Edan has been stripped of the bulk of his magical abilities and war looms between two kingdoms.

Unfortunately, however, the story’s grim turn robs the sequel the more entertaining adventure elements that made the first installment so much fun to read. This isn’t to say that Unravel the Dusk is a bad read or a disappointing conclusion to the story begun in Spin the Dawn. It’s not. It’s still beautifully written. The characters are still compelling. Maia remains a fabulous heroine whose journey is complex and messy

This is just a very different kind of story from the first novel, and readers should probably be prepared for that going in. Unravel the Dusk will feel familiar to regular readers of YA fantasy, and though it tells its story well, it loses much of what made the first novel feel so unique in the process.

Gone is the competition and sense of adventure from the first novel. Though the stakes in Unravel the Dusk are higher than ever, the story itself feels less expansive, focusing almost solely on Maia and a handful of other characters. (Plus side: One of those characters is Ammi, who gets to be very amazing in this book.) And it often seems so unconnected – outside of the dresses themselves, and Lady Sarnai’s continued dislike of Maia – to the story of the first novel.

The enchanter Edan – one of the first book’s most interesting characters and Maia’s eventual love interest – is largely left on the back burner here. He pretty much doesn’t appear in Unravel the Dusk’s first half, and when he does show up is given little of substance to do outside of being Maia’s uber-supportive boyfriend.

And though the magical dresses from the first story continue to figure prominently here, Unravel the Dusk doesn’t focus nearly so much on Maia’s love of tailoring or ability to craft. This is, of course, largely due to the fact that this story now involves multiple epic battle scenes – complete with demons and witchcraft – but still. It’s an element of the first novel that is truly missed in its sequel. (And, as a result, her connection to the dresses and the goddess that imbues them with their power is…well, less than fleshed out this time around.)

Most of the story is about Maia’s struggle to battle the literal demon in her head. Having sold her soul at the end of the last book to save Edan, she’s rapidly losing control of her mind as her body deteriorates into something monstrous. She’s growing claws, becoming impervious to cold and randomly experiencing rage blackouts. It’s not pretty. Her story in this book is something that obviously she can only experience most of on her own – and to be fair, her growth and eventual belief in herself is remarkable. But, her journey is also incredibly dark, as she debates whether or not it might be better just to let the demon Bandur corrupt her if it means saving her kingdom.

In this way, Unravel the Dusk is a deeply compelling character study – it’s hard not to feel a tremendous amount of sympathy for Maia’s struggle, and to hope she survives it. But this focus on her internal life is so single-minded that it leaves virtually every other character a shadow of what they were before. (Ammi and Lady Sarnai aside.) And as a result, they feel watered down – almost to the point where it’s difficult to care that much what happens to anyone who isn’t Maia during the varied and complex battle sequences.

This sequel is ultimately a mixed bag. Those who loved Maia’s journey in Spin the Dawn will doubtless want to finish it with her, and, in the end, that conclusion is a satisfying one. It’s just difficult to love everything that happens along the way.

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Unravel the Dusk is available now. Let us know if you’re planning to give it a look this summer!