Guardians of the Dawn: Zhara
Published August 1, 2023
About Guardians of the Dawn: Zhara
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 don’t know why I mistook this for middle grade when I first agreed to review it. Maybe the cover reminded me of a different middle grade title? I’m not sure. At any rate, the book page on Amazon recommends it for ages fourteen and up. I think maybe 11 or 12-year-olds could read it just fine, though.
My favorite thing about the book is definitely the way Zhara and Han relate to one another. They’re so cute. She gets all giggly, and he is so easily flustered. I loved it! I also loved Xu, Han’s best friend and often the voice of wisdom.
The story has some strong Cinderella vibes, but I wouldn’t call it a Cinderella retelling. I definitely see the comparison to CINDER— which was a Cinderella retelling couched in a story of revolution. Similarly, GUARDIANS OF THE DAWN: ZHARA follows characters through political upheaval and what could lead to revolution.
I’m super curious about what the rest of the series will be like. Will each subsequent book contain elements of a familiar fairytale, a la The Lunar Chronicles or the Everland series? I hope it does. I would love to see more East Asia-inspired remixes of fairytale stories.
All in all, I enjoyed this book a lot, especially the character interactions. I’m really eager to read more of this series.
Recommended for Ages 12 up.
The Land of the Morning Realms is inspired by East Asia. More than one minor character is LGBTQIA+.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity very rarely used.
Kissing between boy and girl. References to romantic encounters between other couples, including same-gender couples. Characters discuss romance novels and explicit novels– the quotes and titles included are metaphorical.
Magic exists as a balance between order and chaos. Chaos includes demons, which can be summoned and can possess someone with magic. Powerful magicians have the ability to battle those forces of chaos.
Situations of peril. Domestic violence. Some graphic descriptions of battle and monsters.
Zhara’s stepmother frequently gets drunk and physically/emotionally abuses her and her sister.
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