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The Ten Thousand Doors of January


The Ten Thousand Doors of January

There are few things that book enthusiasts love more than books about books. All readers know that there is a certain magic to starting a new book, flipping to that first page, and meeting the hero of the next few hours (or days, or weeks) of your life. As January Scaller, the protagonist of THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY, explains, “[T]here are ten thousand stories about ten thousand Doors, and we know them as well as we know our own names. They lead to Faerie, to Valhalla, Atlantis and Lemuria, Heaven and Hell, to all the directions a compass could never take you, to elsewhere.” So begins Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding, lush and captivatingly imaginative debut --- not just a book, but a true experience, an ode to storytelling and every book lover’s dream.

When she was only seven years old, January found one of the doors mentioned in her opening quote: a “capital D” Door that hinted at a world of magic surrounding her. She has long heard of such Doors from her father --- a sort of treasure hunter who travels the world collecting oddities for his employer, Cornelius Locke, the wealthy, white Chairman of the Archaeological Society. Father and daughter live with Locke in his sprawling mansion, an estate filled with mysterious treasures, artifacts and other peculiar things.

"Enchanting, colorful and powerful, THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY transcends genre and is sure to make a new fan out of anyone who encounters it."

January herself is a bit of an anomaly. A young woman of color living in the early 1900s, she stands out for all of the expected reasons, but on top of that, she is willful and imaginative --- dangerous qualities for young ladies who do not fit into the rigid world around them. Despite his fascination with the obscure, Locke is horrified when January claims to have found a Door. With her father away and unable to step in, he traps January in her room, pushing her to the brink of insanity and forcing her to become a perfect little lady. But January is no ordinary young woman.

With time, January soon starts to forget the Door, until she finds a book titled The Ten Thousand Doors just before her 17th birthday. Not only a guide to the passages and portals between our world and others, it tells the story of the life of a young woman named Adelaid Lee Larson, who discovered some Doors of her own. As January comes back to life, slowly breaking the mental shackles that kept her closed off from magical discoveries, she meets Jane, a stunning and imposing woman sent to the Locke mansion by her father to act as her companion and protector.

For a while, January is able to toe the line between Locke’s demands and her own desires, but when she receives news that her father has gone missing, her grief overtakes her and she makes a fatal mistake: she mentions Doors to Locke. With the more unsavory characteristics of the Archaeological Society exposed, and January’s own curiosity burning within her, she, Jane and one Bad dog set out to find the truth behind Doors --- and how they affect January’s past, present and future.

THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY is instantly gripping, with January’s wit, lyrical turns of phrase and sharply written observations about doorways and life immediately drawing you in. But even beyond that, it is a story within a story. Just as January’s adventure begins, the truth about Adelaid unfolds, with each plotline propelling the other forward, resulting in a breathless and compelling pace. While the story moves quickly, it is not action-packed with danger or fighting, but Harrow keeps the plot believably dark by focusing instead on real-world issues of race and privilege.

Combined with the more fantastical elements, these topics are thrown into harsh relief, infusing the book with some necessary darkness while pulling back from normal fantasy tropes of wars and swordplay. The premise is, of course, intriguing, but Harrow’s characters are so wholly realized that they barely need the setting or plot to feel real. From January’s inner battle to escape the rigid rules set upon her by Locke to Jane’s quiet fortitude and even Dog’s wild and wacky interludes, each one brings a new depth to this already limitless story.

As I’ve said, the plot and characters are likely enough to make any reader add this magical book to their TBR list, but even if fantasy isn’t your thing, Harrow’s gift for prose makes this a can’t-miss read. She infuses every word with magic and possibility, as well as a resounding love for storytelling, but what truly stands out is the overwhelming sense of longing --- for adventure, for hope and for acceptance. This is a gorgeous, richly imagined work that reads like one book lover talking to another, and Harrow’s observations about the power of stories is not only poignant, but also heartfelt and empowering. This jewel of a novel reads, at times, like a call to action, and paired with clever musings on doorways and new beginnings, this theme of encouragement leaps off the page.

Enchanting, colorful and powerful, THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY transcends genre and is sure to make a new fan out of anyone who encounters it. Harrow has left the door (pardon the pun) open for a second installment, but playing upon her own notions of doorways and possibilities, I hope that she’ll leave this one open for some time to come. I want as many readers as possible to fall in love with January as I have, and I cannot wait to see who Harrow introduces next.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on November 1, 2019

The Ten Thousand Doors of January
by Alix E. Harrow