Hey loves! Today I’m sharing my review for Guardians of Dawn: Zhara by S. Jae-Jones, which is a book I’d been very excited for since the beautiful cover was announced, and I’m happy to say I absolutely adored it!
This story was fairly cheesy (but I loved it all the more for that) and was full of beautiful representation. I don’t remember the last time I giggled and cried so much at a book, so hands down I’d recommend this if you’re after a book to put you in a good mood!
Read on for my full review.
About the Book
Series: Guardians of Dawn #1
Author: S. Jae-Jones
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: August 1st 2023
Source: Physical proof gifted by the publisher (this in no way affects my review which is honest and unbiased)
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 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.
I’ll have to start this review with a confession, I have not read S. Jae-Jones’ Wintersong duology. After reading Zhara, I will 100% be tracking down a copy of the duology though because I definitely want to read more of S. Jae-Jones’ work after this!
Zhara starts off with an authors note explaining the use of language, and most notably why ‘they’ is used to refer to people in the first introduction. I really loved the way it was used in general, and we meet a couple of non-binary characters within the story which was some lovely representation, especially as one of these characters, Xu, is one of the recurring, most adorable characters.
The story itself is one that keeps your interest, but its driven by a whole cast of amazing characters and, one of my personal weaknesses, a big dash of found family.
Zhara has spent most of her life living with her stepmother and stepsister, following her father being executed for being a magician. She has a job working within the apothecary, but since she feels indebted to her stepmother, for not revealing her own magic, she gives all of her wages to her stepmother and sleeps in the kitchen instead, in a very Cinderella-type of living.
But Zhara has her books, and so the beginning of the story starts out with her heading to the bookshop to buy the latest installment of her favourite romance series. Lo and behold, this is where she bumps into a mysterious, attractive character who she goes on to refer as “Master Plum Blossom”. Master Plum Blossom is an extremely endearing character throughout, and most of my giggles (as with Zhara’s giggles) were aimed at him. I won’t say too much about him, but his scenes with Zhara were utterly adorable.
The story itself is driven by instances of magicians turning into monsters, and our main cast tries to investigate this and attempt to find a cure for it, with the past instances requiring death to end the abomination. Alongside this, Zhara’s stepsister, Suzhan, is being forced to marry so that their family can get out of debt. Zhara obviously loves Suzhan, and this leads to several emotional moments between them.
In terms of representation, alongside non-binary we have a blind side character (Suzhan, slightly in keeping with Cinderella there) and a lesbian character (I won’t talk about them but they are an excellent character, so feisty and flirty). We’re also treated to a couple of animal companions, and they were used in the story in an excellent way.
There are a lot of happy moments throughout, but S. Jae-Jones has teamed this up with complex world-building and some heavy themes (including genocide, and some cases of parental abuse). My heartstrings were tugged at many times and I just really can’t wait to read book two!
“In this life or the next, there is no end when there is love.”
Will you be reading this?
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