Book Review: Gates of Hope (Aulirean Gates #1) – J.E. Hannaford


Today I am delighted to be reviewing Gates of Hope, the first book in the Aulirean Gates trilogy which is the upcoming series from J.E. Hannaford the author of The Skin & The Pact (The Black Hind’s Wake). I adored that first duology and they set Hannaford as a must-buy author for me, and Gates is set to follow that trend. In full disclosure, I read an early version of Gates of Hope and fell in love immeditely with this world and these characters (and the bestest boy), and I have since reread it through the ARC.

Gates of Hope is out in the wild next week on the 14th April, and I know that the author is going to be at Eastercon if you want to pick up a copy from her in person!

Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.

Book Summary:

The Watcher shattered the Gates.

Now hope must arise from the shards.

Darin and Suriin enter the Black Palace of the So’Dal, at a time when monstrous Edgelands creatures return to the skies over Caldera.
After exhibiting magical traits thought lost, Darin is drawn into a secret society charged with keeping the Watcher’s secrets. Now he must balance learning to control his magic, caring for Star, his new companion, and finding a way to sustain the Howlers’ power for long enough to protect Caldera from the predatory creatures of the Edgelands.

Before she arrived at the Black Palace Suriin broke the ancient rules of the So’Dal to save the life of the person she loves the most. As her search for a cure delves deeper under the mountain, is there any price she won’t pay? 

On the outer moon of Tebein, Elissa’s newly awakened magic will endanger her home and family. Now she must race to find help for those she leaves behind as she escapes those who want her, and all those like her, dead.

One wrong decision by any of them could return legends to life and end five hundred cycles of peace. Will they find the solutions they need in time?

The Review:

‘Committing a once immortal race to slow, unstoppable death was never an aspiration of mine, but sometimes we must do what is right, not what is comfortable. Today, we choose the lives of many over the longevity of a few.’

From the opening sentences, this book establishes itself as epic – in terms of both scope (hello Dragons in space – which was my original gateway to SFF, so I was always going to be drawn to a book that featured this) and multiple worlds and people, but also in the weight of the story which is conveyed from beginning to end. This isn’t just a story of the three POV characters, it is a story about worlds in flux, worlds that have already undergone great change and had their fate altered by half-forgotten beings.

Then of course there is the cover. Star – the Moonhound – is already the bestest boy, but he steals the show on this cover. I love the traditional feel of this cover, the art is stunning, and it feels like being out on an adventure (and once you’ve read the book, you’ll get the full emotional impact of this scene). Thavie the cover artist really blew it out of the water. And as anyone who knows me, this book also gets a bonus point because there is not just one but two maps, which do an excellent job of establishing just how different the worlds that we spend time in are, and in a book that features many journeys, is a fantastic tool for visualising the locations and the scope of those journeys. There are also illustrations within the book, and a handwritten letter – which are all tied into the story itself, as are the symbols used for the page breaks, and I love how all these different elements are all used to support and expand the story itself. Everything about Gates is a labour of love, and it adds an extra layer to what is already a well-developed book.

‘On Holloways; these strange features have become a normal part of travel and transport since the Great Rending. Along their length are found a range of accommodations and entertainments for the weary traveller. A Traveller’s guide to Caldera.

The worldbuilding in Gates of Hope is definitely one of my favourite elements, and Hannaford’s love for the world and the lore shine through, not just in the visual details, but in how this world unfolds in front of us as the reader. There is breadth and depth in this book, and Hannaford gives us just enough to ground us on that first step before giving us that nudge out of the door, and letting her world and all the elements that fill it from the flora and fauna, to the various magics and the history itself, blossom ahead of us like a flower in spring. We are shown and experience new aspects alongside our main POV characters, so that it feels as though we are right there with them travelling through this richly realised, living world and it creates a wonderful organic feeling of discovery that fits wonderfully with the fact that this book is very much a journey – for us and for the characters themselves. I love that there is never anything static about the worlds that Hannaford creates in her writing, everything is a moving part – with all the bumps and tension and conflicts that arise from a world in motion; we saw that in her previous duology, and it is wonderful to see it here when the scope feels that much bigger.

Hannaford has also deployed one of my favourite ways of layering information about the world and its peoples and creatures, and that is through the epigraphs. I love the variety in these as well, from manual extracts to songs, and from an array of different sources and experiences. Again conveying the idea of this being a rich, lived in world – and avoiding those dreaded infodump, and it’s always fun to read these tidbits and to fit them into the wider jigsaw of the world.

Gates of Hope also has magic, that falls I would say at the moment into the soft-hard part of the scale. There are rules, and expectations about roles (which can be broken), but this is the first book and there is still room for fully exploring this magic system and it may tilt more towards the harder system. I like that we still don’t have all the full details of the magic system, but that we have been able to see some of the full potential of what people are capable of it, and it is fitting with the characters that we are following who are fledgling magic-users – and again there is that feeling of taking that journey with them. Another aspect of the magic that I really like, and shows how events have had a real-life impact within the world, is how the lilac-hair that indicates a female magic user is treated with pride and respect in Lieus, but on Tebein which had been cut off, it was necessary to cover it with dye and those with lilac hair were shunned.

‘You can sing the magic – you can do it all. But singing is always limited by needing something to act on.’

Then there is the variety in the magic itself. From the ability to use song to use magic, to the telepathic connection of those bound with Moonhounds, to using dreams and emotions. Fittingly in a world where the dragons and the gates are tied to emotions, it feels like much of the magical systems are based on emotional connection whether within the individual or between people – to work a healing, to communicate in dreams or with a moonhound. In a world where waring peoples and worlds themselves were forcefully separated to end the conflict, it feels especially potent to have magic that is almost the opposite. I also like, that the magic is never treated as a ‘fix-all’ and there are costs, whether it is exhausting resources to heal someone, needing to hide aspects that would draw unwelcome attention, or just the effort and journey to learning how to use the magic; and I particularly like that Hannaford chose to show us that journey to learning how to use the magic, not as a training montage, but as an essential part of the journey and that it was just that a journey, and a battle fought without weapons by three characters of different ages and experiences.

‘The huge flying beast you were so careless about back at Golden. They’re native to the Edgelands but occasionally travel further to hunt.’

As a final note on the worldbuilding, I couldn’t not talk about the fauna and flora. Hannaford has already established herself as a powerhouse writer when it comes to bringing mythological and folklore critters to life, and here we see that take on a different form, as she has created a biological system that is unique to the world. From the plants that are found in different locations, to their different purposes whether for healing or crafting, and that some are very much limited by location, to the domesticated animals, to the creatures that roam the wildspaces and holloways. The Moonhounds are one of my favourite – if you’re going to put a giant dog that can communicate telepathically with their partners in front of me, I am always going to be biased towards them. But, I think it is the flora and fauna that just finish that feeling of this being a world that lives and breathes in its own right.

As much as I adore the worldbuilding, and Hannaford truly excels at creating a world that you can become completely and utterly immersed in on every level, Gates of Hope is also very much a character-driven story. We follow three POV characters – Darin, Suriin and Elissa – and here again we get that variety of experience. Elissa is older, already world-worn and coming from a life of slavery and having to hide herself away, while Suriin is very much a teenager trying to run rather than walk towards what she wants in life and finding herself coming up against the sharp edge of real life, while Darin is a young, somewhat sheltered man who is thrust towards a path he didn’t expect and having to grow into that role on the fly.

Hannaford has always had a fantastic ability with her characterisation that allows us to see the characters being influenced and shaped by the world around them, and vice versa, and it feels very much like she has taken that to a new level in Gates. These three POV characters are each fantastically realised from the beginning, and each are true to their lived experiences, but also to their hopes and fears, to what path they expected to take and then we are with them on their journeys that take them on unexpected paths, or expected paths that don’t go as they imagined. We get to share in their triumphs and failures, to see the wounds – emotional and physical – and how they play out, we get to see the bonds that shift and change around them.

Darin and of course Star are favourites – these are the cinnamon rolls with so much more to come. This is their coming-of-age story, individually and together, and watching their bond develop (and the interactions between these two are top notch all the way through) is a delight. In some ways, Darin’s story felt the most grounded, and I am incredibly excited to see where his path with the Howlers goes and what he will look like on the other side of this.

Elissa though was possibly the character I connected with the most. That lived experience really shone through, and her journey and trials really hooked me in – and that was in the first readthrough, on rereading the ARC it hit home even more. In some ways, it felt like she had more chains – both real and imagined – to shake off, and while Suriin and Darin certainly have more than enough obstacles in their own path, Elissa just spoke to me.

Suriin is very true to a girl her age, and Hannaford has captured the emotion and recklessness of that perfectly. This is a character always in motion, who feels strongly, and who acts without thinking quite often because of that, and yet still we can see the potential, the shape of the woman she can become. At the end of this book, it feels like she might have the more fraught path – with quite a bit of that of her own making – and yet despite her

I think that is why these characters resonate so strongly. They are people in all their imperfect glory, and Hannaford has given us glimpses of the people they could become, of how their path is shaping them and what the future might hold and enough mystery and threat to leave us needing to read on to find out how those paths will play out. The wider cast is not neglected in the slightest, and we see that same care with the characterisation even with those that we only meet in passing. The Howlers are some of my favourite secondary characters, and I am looking forward to seeing more of them in the future, and Natke the awldrin who in some ways feels like a mirror to Elissa’s experience, is intriguing and the way she entered…and ended this book, leaves me on the edge of my seat for where that path will lead next.

This is a book that takes it’s time to set up the world, but there is a constant feeling of motion whether on the smaller scale of the individual character’s journeys and development, or in wider events being set in motion; and I was swept up in the moments, and the ending has left me needing to know what is going to happen next, because this is a journey that can’t stop now.

Gates of Hope was a book with a lot of legwork to do, not only as the first book in a new series but also in establishing not just a single world, but multiple, and it has done a fantastic job of setting in motion a story that will sweep you along. This is a very different book from Hannaford’s previous duology, and it has been a delight to follow her down this new fantastical path. Gates of Hope has all the hallmarks that make the author’s work shine, from the lovingly detailed worldbuilding, to the excellent characterisation and her ability to create a world and atmosphere that engulfs the reader until they are fulling invested in every aspect of the story. If you want a book that will well and truly scratch that epic fantasy itch, that dances along the boundary of sci-fantasy with dragons in space, and a story that spans across different but connected worlds, and yet is thoroughly grounded in the lives and stories of the characters then this book is one for you.

Preorder Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US


If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.


One thought on “Book Review: Gates of Hope (Aulirean Gates #1) – J.E. Hannaford

  1. Pingback: Tavern Chat: J.E. Hannaford – Beneath A Thousand Skies

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