REVIEW: Gates of Sorrow by J.E. Hannaford

Gates of Sorrow, the second volume in J.E. Hannaford’s epic fantasy series, Aulirean Gates, picks up immediately following the dramatic conclusion of Gates of Hope. Since I don’t want to ruin the fun for readers who haven’t yet started this series, I will keep my review completely spoiler-free for both books.

Gates of SorrowGates of Sorrow is set on the planet Lieus and its two moons, Mythos and Tebein. The three bodies, collectively known as the Aulirean System, were connected by magical portals allowing for easy transportation. However, in the opening prologue of Gates of Hope, the gates are destroyed by a giant space dragon known as the Watcher, presumably to end a brutal war.

J.E. Hannaford achieves a Brandon Sanderson level worldbuilding in the Aulirean Gates series. Like its predecessor, Gates of Sorrow imbues a continual sense of wonder as we learn more about the story’s universe and magic system. All of this is revealed in a natural fashion, without any awkward info dumps.

One of my favorite parts of Gates of Sorrow is exploring the larger moon of Mythos, which is home to the Watcher and a community of dragons that encapsulate different types of emotion. Mythos is very different from the smaller outer moon of Tebein, which had been colonized by humans who became stranded once the gates were destroyed and struggle to survive in the shadow of a hostile alien race known as the awldrin.

Meanwhile, the planet of Lieus has experienced a dramatic event known as the Rending, which left its main continent of Caldera covered with deep craters. Most people live in communities within the craters, avoiding the unsafe upper surface of the continent. The eastern part of Caldera known as the Edgelands is especially dangerous, home to fearsome beasts that migrated from the planet’s two moons prior to the gates’ destruction.

While I’m emphasizing J.E. Hannaford’s outstanding worldbuilding, Gates of Sorrow is primarily a character-driven novel with three point-of-view characters. Darin is a young man from Caldera who bonds with a moonhound named Star. Moonhounds are large shaggy dogs who use doggie dream magic to select a human for bonding. Darin and Star have a telepathic bond enabling them to share images with each other. Darin’s story finds him going deeper into a secretive society while learning to control his own magical powers to help Suriin, the second main character.

Suriin is a teenaged girl whose lilac-colored hair provides a visible indication of her magical powers. In Gates of Sorrow, Suriin must deal with the aftermath of misplaced trust, which has implications for both Suriin’s life and the fate of everyone on Caldera.

My favorite point-of-view character in Gates of Sorrow is Elissa, a young woman living on the outer moon of Tebein who is labeled as “Untouched” and targeted by the awldrin for her lilac-colored hair. When the shard of a magical crystal becomes embedded in her foot, Elissa may provide the only path toward salvation for the stranded population of Tebein. While all three main characters experience satisfying growth in Gates of Sorrow, Elissa really goes to the next level through her interactions with dragons. (That’s her riding a dragon on the cover!)

J.E. Hannaford’s writing is refined and accessible, a delight in every way. Grimdark readers will appreciate Hannaford’s nuanced characterization and complex worldbuilding in Gates of Sorrow, which offers great re-readability for readers like me who simply cannot get enough. Altogether, the Aulirean Gates proves to be one of the most compelling new epic fantasy series in recent memory.

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

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