Guardians of Dawn: Zhara

Wednesday Bks. (Guardians of Dawn: Bk. 1). Aug. 2023. 416p. Tr $20. ISBN 9781250191427.
Gr 6 Up–Magicians have been outlawed in the Morning Realms. The punishment? Death. Zhara, a magician herself, has been trying to sneak by and protect her younger sister, who is blind, from her abusive stepmother. Meanwhile, Prince Han is no safer, trying to protect his young magician brother from discovery and find the Guardians of the Dawn, a rebel group that smuggles magicians to safety. When their paths collide, sparks fly. Literally. Zhara will have to reckon with her abilities, past, and, ultimately, her place in the world if she wishes to survive. Magic, monsters, and mayhem keep the pages turning in this Asian-inspired fantasy. Equally tender and awkward, the romance is highly relatable and laugh-out-loud funny. While the characters’ complete obliviousness to each other’s hidden identities may make readers groan, they’re so endearing it isn’t a bother. Counter to the characters’ humor is their depth. The pressures they feel to protect their family at all costs and desire to carve out happiness for themselves, all while dodging dangers both human and magical, will surely yank on heartstrings. Sprinkled in bits of body horror reminiscent of Chloe Gong's books will keep fans of darker fantasy satisfied. The epilogue teases more expansive, explosive installments to come.
VERDICT Perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer’s “The Lunar Chronicles,” this heartwarming, heartbreaking start to a series will leave readers aching for more.

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