1 Aug 2023

Review: GUARDIANS OF DAWN: ZHARA by S. Jae-Jones


Author: S. Jae-Jones
Series: Guardians of the Dawn #1
Source: Indigo
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication Date: August 1, 2023

Overall Rating:
Diversity Rating:

Representation: genderfluid, lesbian side characters, lesbian romance (hinted at), Korean main character

Sailor Moon meets Cinder in Guardians of Dawn: Zhara, the start of a new, richly imagined fantasy series from S. Jae-Jones, the New York Times bestselling author of Wintersong.

Magic flickers.
Love flames.
Chaos reigns.

Magic is forbidden throughout the Morning Realms. Magicians are called abomination, and blamed for the plague of monsters that razed the land twenty years before.

Jin Zhara already had enough to worry about—appease her stepmother’s cruel whims, looking after her blind younger sister, and keeping her own magical gifts under control—without having to deal with rumors of monsters re-emerging in the marsh. But when a chance encounter with an easily flustered young man named Han brings her into contact with a secret magical liberation organization called the Guardians of Dawn, Zhara realizes there may be more to these rumors than she thought. A mysterious plague is corrupting the magicians of Zanhei and transforming them into monsters, and the Guardians of Dawn believe a demon is responsible.

In order to restore harmony and bring peace to the world, Zhara must discover the elemental warrior within, lest the balance between order and chaos is lost forever.
Amazon | Chapters
Content Warning: animal death, animal cruelty, parental death (off screen), parental neglect, parental abuse, body horror, gore, disability, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, discussions of war, mistreatment of refugees, colourism

If I could give this 10/5 stars, I would. If I could give this 100 stars, I would. I am so gloriously happy about this book!! A mixture of Cinder and Sailor Moon was a book I couldn't pass up. I thought this had an accurate portrayal of teenagers, a lot of good exploration of how neglect affects you, and inclusion that felt natural rather than forced.

I thought there were a lot of good threads between the storyline, the characters, and the magical girl transformations. This had every element that I wanted from a Sailor Moon/magical transformation girl-esque story. It also had a prince in disguise, funny quips, and the ability to showcase how people work together in a time of crisis.

I don't think this book will be for everyone. I don't think Sailor Moon is for everyone. There is a lot of lore and overlap in Guardians of Dawn: Zhara and the main protagonists (both Zhara and Han) can be frustrating at times. (At least Han is a bit better than Tuxedo Mask).

I liked the way that things were explained, that inclusion was incorporated, and that everyone was able to incorporate the language they needed to make people feel comfortable. While there was obviously some pushback in society around different sexualities and gender identities, that wasn't the crux of the issue at hand.

I loved the found family aspect, the mentorship, and the transforming animals that the Guardians had relationships with. I thought the romance was believable and sweet. I appreciated the struggles that Zhara had with accepting that her stepmother didn't love her and that she had been abused. I was shocked at some of the twists in the story and how everything connected.

I did have a bit of an issue with the magical sweeping of everything being great after the last battle (new people in power, changes in legislation basically overnight, etc.). But by that point I was so into the story and sad it was coming to a close that it was fine.

I can't wait to see where this story goes and meeting the other Guardians!!

Have you read this book? Are you going to pick this up?

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