Unravel the Dusk
by Elizabeth Lim
Unravel the Dusk is book 2 in a duology that follows our main character Maia on a quest to become a Master Tailor (a title not permitted to women), while she also unintentionally awakens her magic. The first book in this duology was an instant 5 star read. I loved everything about it, from the political setting of a woman entering the Emperor’s employment disguised as a man, to the allyship turned romance between the Emperor’s Enchanter and Maia. I was especially engrossed by the magic system and cultural lore of the gods and goddesses, and discovering what role, if any, they played in assisting our main characters. It all just worked for me and I couldn’t wait to continue the story in book 2.
The cliffhanger from book one both is, and is not, drawn out in the second novel. Right away we’re thrust back into Maia’s life, mere hours (or possibly a day or two) after the first novel ended. While we didn’t have to wait long to see what our characters had been up to since we’d parted with them, it did take about 60% of the book for Maia to make a pivotal decision.
The rest of this review will contain spoilers. Before I begin that section, for those of you who would like a tldr (too long didn’t read) summary of my thoughts on the book as a whole: this second novel gave me a lot of anxiety. I felt like the final few chapters rounded out the ending of this story in a way that soothed those personal wounds, but the overall experience reading this book was not the light, fluffy, exploration and enjoyment from book one. I’ll definitely be picking up more books from this author because I think they have a great way of weaving a story together, and really lush, vivid descriptions of not just location or setting, but also cultural impact on the characters.
For those of you who would like some spoilers, let’s dive in.
Maia is struggling to not become a demon, after the events in book one. I was really anticipating this being a cool aspect of her story, and was excited to watch the ways her new powers would manifest. Instead it was pages of Maia fighting internally and externally against this take over of her mind, body, and soul. The back and forth, the will she won’t she, her looming death and indecisiveness, while working to highlight the depths of the demon’s torment and hold over Maia, left me incredibly anxious as the reader.
I just wanted Maia to decide to give up or fight back, and when she flitted between those options each chapter, I found myself disconnecting with her as a character. If she couldn’t pick a lane to charge down, how could I pick a way to root for her.
Aside from this plot point, the writing was engaging when it came to the fight sequences, harrowing escapes, and the ensuing battles. Ironically, I felt the most settled during the last battle, when Maia had finally made a choice and followed through on her plan. The way this novel wrapped up brought me right back to the moment Maia and Edan realized they loved each other. That moment of light, love, and hope was a great way to end the novel that, at times, I wasn’t sure would have a happy (or even cohesive) ending.
Overall I enjoyed this story as a whole. Maia and Edan as characters were so interesting. I loved watching what choices they made for their magic, themselves, and their families (and I guess for their people or country). Despite not talking about it at length in either of my reviews, I also really liked seeing the Empire unravel alongside Maia’s dresses. The politics involved and the wars that framed the beginning of the first novel and the ending of the second, as well as the shifting power dynamics, were a great addition to a story that showed how one person’s actions can have domino-like consequences. While this second book triggered some of my own anxiety, I’m still happy I know what happened next, and can imagine how Maia and Edan spent their final days together.
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