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“Sometimes it’s easy to forget the beauty of everyday things. We walk through our livess wearing the blinkers of expectation. Only when something is out of the normal do we notice it.”

Gates of Sorrow (Aulirean Gates 2) by J. E Hannaford

‘You will be the path we walk. You will be the last scale on a wing, the piece of the puzzle that makes everything complete.’

Deep beneath the Black Palace in Lieus, Suriin pays the price for trusting Natke. Cut off from her magic and unable to rescue herself, she waits on aid from Darin and the Howlers. The cost of her rescue? The future she’d always dreamed of.

Thanks to Darin and Chase, the Howlers’ access to magic is no longer restricted, but as they prepare to hunt down the xotryl and its new companion, they receive disturbing news from Dal. Natke is hunting. She will stop at nothing to get home to Tebein.

Far away, on Tebein, Elissa’s only hope to rescue her people is to travel to the moon of Mythos and find a way to re-open the Aulirean Gate on Lieus.

My Review

I have been eagerly waiting for this book and the author was kind enough to give me an early ARC in exchange for an honest review. Gates of Hope, book one in the Aulirean Gates trilogy, was one of my favourite reads last year. This is an epic fantasy with beautifully rich and layered characters with a detail to world-building akin with Robert Jordan, Robin Hobb, and Patrick Rothfuss. The end of book one left us with a cliff-hanger, satisfying their arcs whilst preparing them for the next stage of their adventures.

Gates of Sorrow has the advantage of dumping us straight into the action, minutes after the events of Gates of Hope, allowing the narrative to flow from page one. It was a while since I read the first book, so it did take me a little time to remember where everyone was, who they were with, plot detail etc. But I acclimatised fairly quickly, and certain bits of dialogue reminded me of plot points that were vague to me. I don’t have the luxury of time to re-read books, so maybe a ‘story so far’ segment may have been helpful, but I never expect an author to do one. They already have so much to do.

So, lets get straight into this. Jen Hannaford has always been an author about character for me. Her ability to make me fall in love with her characters is something few authors can do. Of course, all authors write characters I like or hate, giving them nuance, playing with morality, creating difficult choices and so on. But, for me, what Hannaford does is bring a level of authenticity and humanity to her characters, namely the three main protagonists, Darin, Suriin and Elissa.

As much as she has written an epic science fantasy that spans multiple planets and moons, with a complex magic system and expansive world-building, there is an element of cosy fantasy here. There is very much a theme of love and companionship throughout. Whether that be between a father and daughter, friend to friend, or a Howler and his moonhound, Hannaford injects a tenderness and care into how others are treated and seen. There is an indelible nobility to her characters actions.

Suriin, in particular, is fighting against her own guilt, for setting Natke free. The fact that she recognises her mistake and is working to right that wrong, is testament to both her fallibility and her inner resolve. Through Suriin’s story we learn so much more about the Soul Anchor’s relationship with her crystal and the implications are shocking! Suriin goes through the wringer in this book and my heart bled for her the whole time.

In Darin’s arc we get to know the Howlers a lot more. I love these characters so, so much. Bones, Boulder, Fall and the rest of the old boys, bring me so much joy when they are on the page. Even though their secret mission is dangerous and the fate of the world is essentially in their hands, the cosy element of their scenes brings me a warm and fuzzy feeling. I just want to go for a pint with these gents and listen to tales of old and their past adventures. We learn so much more lore and about the magic of world too, building upon what we learnt in Gates of Hope and expanding upon it. But Jen never loses sight of the intimacy of relationships and this balance is wonderfully played out in Elissa’s arc.

I don’t want to go too much into Elissa’s arc, because her particular story is best going in blind. What I will tell you is we get more dragons. Lots of them. Jen’s approach to dragons is both familiar and unique, comforting and strange. Each dragon is manifestation of emotion, much like the magic system is governed and manipulated by emotion and feelings. This juxtaposition of the epic and the intimate gives Gates of Sorrow extra depth and richness. Elissa goes through the biggest change of the three characters. She has come a long way from the darkness of the sericlave and hiding her true identity, to growing and blooming like a lilac flower with new purpose and determination

A word of warning to all the epic fantasy lovers out there though. This book is light on action. There are some superb and tense action scenes, but that isn’t the story that Hannaford is telling. This is a personal and deeply emotionally-driven book. Character is king. That’s not to say this book is without it’s moments of stress-inducing anxiety. One particular scene had me sweating and hyperventilating! How Jen punctuates times of comfort and company with moments of heart thumping action is skilfully done.

I posted a tweet a while back saying that the two authors who I think write animal companionship the best are Robin Hobb and J. E. Hannaford and I stand by that. In fact, I would go one further and say that the most emotionally moving moments in this book were between human and moonhound. Suriin in particular has a beautiful, heart-rending and tender relationship with a moonhound called Swift. Anyone who has owned a pet of any kind and gone through times of stress or illness with them, will connect with these scenes in a deeply moving way. If you love animal companions in your fantasy and have not yet read Hannaford, then I can’t recommend her books enough.

Gates of Sorrow continues to be a wonderful character-driven epic fantasy with well balanced cosy moments, heart thumping tension in places, touching and tender relationships and expansive lore and world-building. The last 100 pages alone had me panicking and stressing about the safety and well-being of our beloved characters and there is unpredictability to her writing which fuels my need for book three. I need it. I need it now!

Gates of Sorrow is released April 19th and you can pre-order through the link below.

Gates of Sorrow

Gates of Sorrow

Gates of Sorrow

Gates of Sorrow

Gates of Sorrow

Gates of Sorrow

Gates of Sorrow

Gates of Sorrow

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