Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Redhook (September 10, 2019)
Length: 384 pages
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow is a lush and spellbinding coming-of-age portal fantasy about a young woman who finds answers to her past in a mysterious old book that can open pathways to other worlds. But first, can we take a moment to appreciate that drop-dead gorgeous cover? I have to say, never has a cover delivered a closer impression of what to expect from a book. It’s colorful, a little wild but still sophisticated and elegant, with just a touch of whimsy—which also happens to be exactly how I would describe this story to others.
Transporting us to the early 1900s, this novel follows January Scaller, who was just a little girl when she first discovered the Door. But as with many childhood recollections, soon the memory of that encounter began to fade, until many years later, when a teenaged January stumbles upon a strange book that changes her life forever. The mixed-race daughter of an explorer, our protagonist grew up in an unconventional household headed by the wealthy Cornelius Locke, the employer of her father Julian who is often away on his globetrotting adventures. But one day, terrible news arrives of Julian’s demise, sending January into a spiral of grief. Turning to the book for comfort, she instead finds the power to open doors leading to wondrous, fantastical realms.
Weaving together the magical words of the book with the revelations that January uncovers while on her journey through these different worlds, the story gradually unfolds to reveal the secrets about her family, the role of Mr. Locke, and the curious nature of the many hidden doors.
As you know, I’m a huge fan of “books about books”, and The Ten Thousand Doors of January is in its own way a celebration of that love—not only in the way it reveres knowledge, but also in the way it recognizes reading as a form of escapism for those of us who like seeking distraction from the realities of the world through fantasy and science fiction. These themes are front and center in this novel, and they were given their due respect with the author’s lyrical writing style which is vivid with meticulous detail, clever metaphors, and delightful turns of phrase. It made reading this book a real joy, especially once the story picked up in earnest and we embarked upon our quest to seek truth with January.
But the element that absolutely set this novel apart for me was the voice of our protagonist. January narrated this tale with an aplomb that belies her young age and experience, though as a woman and minority living in American society at the turn of the century, she’s had to grow up pretty quickly to harden herself against the rampant racism and sexism in those days. She also has a boundless imagination, a result of plenty of lonely childhood days spent finding fun and companionship in books. Furthermore, her personality is complex and often contradictory in a way that actually made her feel more genuine and interesting. At once contemplative and excitable, sweet and stubborn, January tells her story with an infectious charisma and precocious attitude that makes her completely irresistible.
If you like to read stories about the love of books and reading, you really need to check out The Ten Thousand Doors of January—and bonus if you enjoy portal fantasies. But this novel is also about so much more, including a thoughtful and heartfelt exploration of family, growing up, and finding your identify. Passionate and atmospheric, this book will fill you with nostalgia and wistfulness but also uplift your spirits with its beauty and warm vibes. I had a great time with it and I highly recommend it.