Cover Image: Guardians of Dawn: Zhara

Guardians of Dawn: Zhara

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Member Reviews

Sailor Moon + Cinder. I loved the world building and felt it was done right. Not huge info dumps, no huge gaps leaving you wondering how it all works. It is a bit slow paced, so you have to be okay with a developing story versus all action .
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Zoomed through this fantasy (series? duology?) novel and enjoyed all the Sailor Moon nods (I believe this comparison is in the description). Found all the characters delightful and fun to follow. Excited for the follow-up!
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Within pages, the pieces of Cinder are obvious. Very YA, doesn't have much adult crossover so not the perfect fit for our libraries. I stopped at 6% but I imagine it will go over well with the target demographic.

The cover is lovely. It immediately threw me to "Magic Steeped in Poison."

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the ARC.
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One of my most anticipated reads, the synopsis, Sailor Moon meets Cinder? Say less, I am all for it, and the cover? the COVERRRRRR is so beautiful!
Sadly as I read through the book I found it hard for me to connect and engage with the characters and the storyline. Some of the characters I could not stand and found them to be immature, so much so that it lessened my enjoyment of the novel. It also took me a long while to read as I could not deal with the characters and engage with the story. For these reasons I am sad to say that my rating is a 2.5 - 2.75 stars.
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This was a fun story! I fully enjoyed the setting and descriptions. The magic system was intriguing as well, and I did want more of Zhara learning to control her magic. Suzhan was so interesting and I loved watching her story unfold and I hope we see her again. Sweet Han! Thick muscles and good looks and so kind and caring. The fact that everyone kept remarking on his intelligence drove me a bit crazy. Boy must have a complex. The threat of the Mother of Demons seemed less pressing than it should have. I can’t wait to meet the other Guardians of Dawn in future volumes.
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Oh my god! This was absolutely a blast. I know, I know that sounds cliche. It sounds like I’m just hyping up another book. But please give this one a shot if you haven’t already. The vibes were immaculate! 

It felt like sailor moon and a ghibli movie all in one. The characters felt like magical girls in anime. I don’t know if there’s another book but I know I need one ASAP.
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Honestly I think this book would go over a lot better if it was aimed at a younger YA or older middle grade audience. The writing style and characters seem pretty young (maybe it's just because I associate YA with dark angst now). I wasn't sure about the Sailor Moon comparison at first but I could see where it was coming from by the time I finished, although I think ATLA is much better comparison because of the four elements.

I think the strength of this book lies in the plot and worldbuilding. The author has created a very intricate and vivid setting that was a lot of fun to read about, like the culture of serial novels. There's a lot of infodump at the beginning though and I really wish there was a map. The mythology was also very interesting and the plot, though slow in the beginning, really does pick up in part 2 and becomes very engaging from then on, although the ending feels a bit rushed and wrapped up too neatly (for instance there was an important character whose parent died and their reaction to that isn't described). There's also a lot of good representation like a potential WLW couple and a nonbinary character.

The characters aren't as engaging but still fun enough. Zhara is your typical teenage girl heroine who's insecure and unsure of herself (which also causes her to be kind of slow on the uptake), but she also giggles when she sees good-looking people and it's kinda annoying ngl. and Han is a kindhearted himbo who feels like a bit of a punching bag for the other characters sometimes. Their romance feels more like a middle school crush, but I honestly prefer that to the usual "destined lovers" stuff popular nowadays.

All in all I did enjoy reading this book a lot. I want to know what happens next and I'll probably get a copy of the book when it comes out. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a lighthearted fantasy with Asian influences.
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Thank you Netgalley for allowing me to read this ARC!
I loved the idea of this novel. However, it fell flat to me. The characters seemed downright unintelligent. Han was supposed to be a fun-loving and light character like Mushu in Mulan, but he was too much and annoyed me most of the time. I hated his character. I wanted to learn more about the magic system, but it wasn't discussed nearly enough, and if I heard "good-looking giggles" one more time, I was going to lose it. Xu was my favorite and seemed the most complex. I continuously got characters confused due to their one-dimensional nature, and the final battle was confusing and rushed. 

Overall, I appreciate the intention of the book. With more editing and fleshing out of the characters and plot, it could easily change my mind.
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This book was a lot of fun! I was originally interested because of the inspiration from Sailor Moon and Cinderella, and my growing need for more Asian inspired fantasies made me pick this up.

What worked well: the imagery was very vivid and the story is fast paced. There is a deadline to get to and the plot constantly moves towards it. Our main character is slightly goofy but is fiercely loyal to her little sister, and I can definitely see the Sailor Moon inspiration. The love interest had his own storyline and motivations to be involved in the story as well, and his imperfections made him all the more real.

What I struggled with: mostly the magic system and keeping track of the multiple characters. I never really got a clear view of how the magic worked or what powers was happening, and as such it made it harder to read at a constant pace. As such, I ended up putting down the book a lot because it felt too stressful to keep my attention.

Even so, I would still be interested in the next installments in this series. 3.5 stars for me!
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I was so charmed by this and NOT ONLY because of the magic cat but magic cats do, of course, help. Logging onto GoodReads and seeing the author's note about the circumstances of writing it during the pando and wanting something more simple and joyful (hence the Sailor Moon comp) and I get it. This book is super tropey and the characters are often adorably clueless. It reads like pretty young YA and we need that!! And we need more magic cats!!
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4/5 Stars

General description: Zhara's world has always been a trial where she has no control. Her father was taken from her since he was a magician and her wicked stepmother saved her from the same cruel fate. She accidentally blinded her sister. She's the only one that seems to work to provide for the family. However, Zhara is having a harder time keeping her magic under wraps, especially once abominations (magicians turned into evil creatures). Luckily, she isn't alone. Han (the royal heir) wants to escape his palace life and bumps into Zhara one day. He doesn't reveal his identity, but does work by her side. Those two and a cast of other loveable character have to work together to keep their city safe from the abominations, but little do they know, a greater evil is lurking and only time will tell if they're able to protect themselves.

The good
- I loved the diversity.
- I really enjoyed how much the author put themselves into the book. While this was high fantasy, it felt very personable. 
- The action was fantastic.
- The world building was impeccable. I would love to visit this world.

The loss of a star
- While the world building was great, the lore just kept going and going and going. I wanted just a bit to digest the information but more and more kept coming. It got a bit overwhelming at the beginning and even the end, when MORE new lore is introduced.

Overall: If you're looking for a unique new high fantasy, you NEED to pick this up and anxiously wait with me for the next one lol.
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I really enjoyed reading this book! I liked the cinderella elements and like the description said, the book had sailor mood vibes. I loved Zhara and Han, they were so cute together!
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I will forever be sucked into a book with a beautiful cover!

Y'all, I really enjoyed this one. Here's what had me talking my fiance's ear off ⬇️

Things I loved:

🌸 Look at this COVER 😍
🌸 An unexpected Cinderella retelling. I really enjoyed the close bond between Zhara and her stepsister. I thought that was a very clever change.
🌸 S. Jae-Jones intentional use of pronouns like they/them to reflect the East Asian background of this tale, where there is no gendered 3rd person pronoun.  She does an excellent job of detailing this thought process before the story itself.
🌸 LGBTQIA+ rep that is so stinking cute. If I do not get future stories that feature some of these queer baby side characters I will be so upset!
🌸 The magical premise of this story is very cool! Magicians turning into monsters?? Excellent. As someone who reads a lot of fantasy, it was nice to see a universe that wasn't a carbon copy of the fae worlds we almost always see.
🌸 The twist (no spoilers) of one of our side characters becoming not such a side character indeed 😉
🌸 The pure, unadulterated love of romance novels by both our MC and the prince had me in giggles. Yes to a prince that reads dramatic romance.

What I wished were different:

😢 There were a lot of plot holes in this one. A lot of times our MC gets into some sticky situations and then magically (no pun intended) gets out of them. I kept scrolling back to see if I missed something.
😢 The prince is an idiot...and he's supposed to be an idiot but it really bothered me throughout the story. He doesn't seem to grow at all and I don't believe in their love story.
😢 There was a giant buildup to the ending and I was left unsatisfied. I wanted so much more, especially from Zhara and her other magical friends. I again felt like the MC got out of the situation way too easily.

All of this being said, I think if this book was 50 pages longer to flesh out these details, it would have bumped it a star rating for me. The world building was really well done and I do love this quirky cast of characters.
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Zhara is the first book in the Guardians of Dawn series featuring a Sailor Moon meets Cinder vibe. In this first installment Jin Zhara lives in a land where the magic she harbors is forbidden. There’s also the threat of the magic turning her into an abomination - which is threatening the lives of all magicians in Zanhei. Can Jin Zhara get to the root of the demon rumors and restore harmony to her world?
Jae-Jones created a richly layered and descriptive world for the characters to reside. I really enjoyed the thought put into both the magic system and the locations. I loved many of the characters individually — Zhara, Han, Xu, Yulana, and Jiyi. Zhara was such a sweet soul grappling with her magic and the challenges brought forth from living with her stepmother. Han is an innocent cinnamon roll that needs to be protected. His character was written incredibly differently from most MMC and was a refreshing change. Xu, I loved the sass of their character and how they owned who they are. Yulana was such a breath of fresh air — she was a fierce fighter but had a mind her own rather than blindly following her family’s views. Jiyi is just a fun character. The writing style itself was a little difficult for me to get into at the start of the story. For me, it made it hard to get into the overall plot at times. While I loved individual elements of the story, it took until the second half for it to flow smoothly in my opinion. I do need to mention the cover. I love the cover art for this book. It’s simply gorgeous and immediately drew my attention.
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DNF at 26%.

i was really excited to dove into another ya fantasy but that’s not what this book is.

the main characters in the book are both 17 years old yet they act much younger making this book seem more middle grade. i personally struggle to comprehend how the fmc who gets uncontrollable giggles whenever she sees someone good looking is able to awaken the power within her and probably save the world. 

additionally, this book was very slow paced things only started happening about 25% into the book. for a ya fantasy i expected much more action from the beginning. while there was no action, there should have been scenes to get me invested in the main characters but honestly i felt so detached from this story i did not care what happened to them.

lastly, there was a reference to a K-pop group which would have been fine in a contemporary book but this is supposed to be a fantasy world away from our current world, it just didn’t make sense to me.

thank you to netgalley and the publisher for an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press/Wednesday Books for my advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion. 

"Guardians of Dawn: Zhara" is described as "Sailor Moon" meets "Cinder" and I one hundred percent stand behind that description. This story has elements of Cinderella and "Sailor Moon" (I mean, the title and the story implies four elemental guardians i.e. four books!) and I think Jae-Jones does a great job of crafting a story that feels like a proper homage to these stories. There also seemed to be a lil call out for kpop fans with the Bangtan Brothers (BTS) which I'm not a BTS fan (I really only listen to 1st to 2nd generation boy groups IF I decide to listen to any boy groups) but I thought it was cute. There's a lot in this book that felt like little love letters to things that I'm assuming influenced and were loved by Jae-Jones. I also massively appreciated that this didn't just rip off the things it was inspired by but instead created something new (unlike another book that completely ripped off certain vampire things...anyways!). 

I also loved the characters in this book. I have a difficult time reading most YA books because the main characters are always so trivial and just...dumb...which I get because when you're a teen, you're just a bit soft but I loved Zhara, Han, Xu, and Yuli. Zhara especially reminded me a lot of Usagi from "Sailor Moon", especially in the Dark Kingdom arc when Usagi has to really push herself to accept that she is Princess Serenity and all the responsibility and power that comes with that title. Like her, Zhara had to do that and it was magnificent to see. There was also a mention of the cauldron of the universe which I feel like was a direct reference to the Sailor Stars arc with Sailor Galaxia (it's referred to as the Galaxy Cauldron in the manga). I just loved that all the characters had so much depth and personality. 

I will say that my one thing that kind of slogged was the whole bit with Jiyi teaching Zhara about the Language of Flowers. It was definitely giving me Rei and Usagi vibes, but man, the explanation was kind of a lot of info dump and I thought it kind of dragged the momentum down. It was short-lived though cause immediately things happened. 

Overall, I enjoyed this a lot and will definitely be recommending it after its publication!
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This was a decent read. I enjoyed it well enough. I felt the writing style was very smooth and nice to read! The plot could have been a bit better paced, but I still liked the majority of it. The magic system, history and world building are what really shined in this book for me. Really loved the altering magic when it "corrupts." 

But unfortunately, something in the story structure/building made reading this book more of a task to check off my list than a preferred way to use my spare free time. And I think that thing might ultimately be the characterization. Sadly, very few of the characters resonated with me. Especially our MCs. Their attraction to each other immediately turned them childish to the point of silliness which made their feelings towards each other and their relationship feel very unserious and unimportant. Their feelings didn't make ME feel anything because I felt like I was sitting between two Jr. Highers instead of two late teens, almost adults. And Han. Poor Han. I LOVE a good innocent, kind, gentle male character. We need so much more of those. But to take that positive disposition and make him the but of every joke, classifying him as 'dumb' frequently by other characters. That sucked to see. If any character attached themselves to me, it would be Xu. Sweet, caring, charming Xu. They are such a good friend with such an amazingly established personality. I wish they could have been present more in that book than just in the comedic or action scenes for more depth of their character.
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I struggled too hard with this book. In the description I was sold when it said it was like Sailor Moon however those were not the vibes I got. It was too juvenile for me as well. The female mc giggling every time she saw someone she thought was attractive just killed it for me. This book was just not my cup of tea.
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This had me at Sailor Moon inspired. It was a promising concept but I don't think it was marketed correctly in all honesty. It also felt very juvenile. Which is interesting considering the warnings in this book and the characters ages. I wanted this book to keep me invested but I had a very hard time with it.

Thank you to netgalley for the arc.
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S. Jae-Jones’ GUARDIANS OF DAWN: ZHARA is an incredible start to a new fantasy series that blends magic and mythology. I loved it — and you will too.

*Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC.*
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