Release Date: August 1st, 2023
When I received Zhara in the mail, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. The cover is absolutely stunning, of course, but I hadn’t read anything by S. Jae-Jones previously and knew next to nothing about this book beforehand. The back cover calls Zhara “Sailor Moon meets Cinder” and I have to say that is a decent comparison. (Side note: If you haven’t read Marissa Meyer‘s Cinder, get on that.) There’s magic. There are monsters. There’s romance. At times it can feel like too much, but for the most part, it’s an enjoyable, action-packed read.
Zhara focuses on a teenage girl named Jin Zhara. She lives in a world where magic is forbidden and those found to be magicians are brought to their deaths for being “abominations.” Having lost her father because of his magical abilities, Zhara has learned to survive in a world where she doesn’t really fit in. She lives with her stepmother, the Second Wife, and her younger sister, and she’s forced to take care of them for the sake of her own survival, but that doesn’t mean the Second Wife makes her life easy. The Second Wife is the typical evil-stepmother in this tale, forcing her step-daughter to take care of the household. While Zhara understands how poorly she’s treated by the Second Wife, she continues pushing through because of her younger sister, having harbored a secret for years relating to her sister’s blindness. But things change when Zhara meets a mysterious young man named Han one day. Together, the two will have to work together to restore harmony to the world alongside the Guardians of Dawn.
Here’s the thing, Zhara is very much a Young Adult book. The romance is cute. It can often be predictable. But it’s utterly delightful. The chosen one trope is used in this book, yes, but it’s used wisely. This isn’t a case of our hero suddenly figuring everything out without issue. No, the kids struggle and they fail. They make mistakes and they learn from them. That’s important to note because this is very much a story about self-growth and acceptance.
It’s hard not to love Zhara, even if she is often naive and her “giggle” fits can become a bit frustrating at times… but when you remember that she’s meant to be a teenage girl, one that hasn’t really had a chance to be a proper teenager, it’s easy to overlook her annoying traits. She’s a well-written character, and seeing her grow over the course of the book is exciting because by the end, it’s hard not to consider what she’ll be capable of in future installments. The Zhara readers meet at the beginning of the book is a far cry from the Zhara readers get to know by the book’s end. She’s more confident. She’s happy. And more importantly, she’s ready for whatever the world throws her way.
Han, on the other hand, doesn’t really get much character growth throughout the book. He’s very much presented as handsome with muscles and not all that bright. Thankfully, despite this, the secondary characters (Xu and Yuli) tend to help make him more bearable.
Zhara is a book full of magic, wonder and thrills. The magical aspect is well-crafted, as are the battle scenes, and there’s so much more that the author can do with future installments. With such an expansive world and a truly unique tale, the Guardians of Dawn series is surely one to watch.
Disclaimer: I received a physical copy for review – this had no impact on my rating/review.
Release Date: August 1st, 2023