The Ten Thousand Doors of January
by Alix E. Harrow
In the summer of 1901, at the age of seven, January Scaller found a Door. You know the kind of door–they lead to Faerie, to Valhalla, to Atlantis, to all the places never found on a map.
Years later, January has forgotten her brief glimpse of Elsewhere. Her life is quiet and lonely but safe on her guardian’s estate, until one day she stumbles across a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds in its pages, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure, and danger. A book that might lead her back to the half-remembered door of her childhood.
But, as January gets answers to questions she never imagined, shadows creep closer. There are truths about the world that should never be revealed.
What a lovely, heart-warming novel!
I’d been eager to check out Harrow’s debut novel after loving her Hugo Award-winning short story, ‘A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies‘, last year, and was even more thrilled to discover that her novel would also include portal fantasy which, for some reason, I’ve always thought I wasn’t a fan of. This is a blatant lie when Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of my favourite classics and The Chronicles of Narnia still fills me with whimsy.
Luckily for me, my friend Natalie @ A Sea Change got me a copy of this for my birthday, and the two of us decided to buddy read it!
Needless to say, I love the way Harrow writes portal fantasy and, more than anything, I love the way she writes. I started this novel in November and didn’t finish it until January, and that’s not because I wasn’t enjoying it – in fact it’s quite the opposite. I savoured this novel and let myself stretch out between the words like a cat in the sunshine.
It’s America in the early 1900s, and 17-year-old January Scaller lives in Locke House as the ward of Mr. Locke himself. Her father works for Mr. Locke, a job that sees him travelling the world for the majority of the time, briefly returning to visit January smelling of adventure and the outdoors. January longs to join him, but being a young woman, and a young woman of colour at that, in early 20th century America means that it’s inside Mr. Locke’s house she’s deemed safest.
But when January discovers a book called The Ten Thousand Doors that sheds light on the magical Doors she hasn’t quite let herself believe in since she was a little girl, she finally has the chance to take her life into her own hands.
There’s very little I want to reveal about the plot of this novel, because so much of the joy of reading this book is in discovering it for yourself. This novel unfolds like a story that’s just been written, like Harrow, or even January herself, is busy scribbling out the next page before you turn over. I think that’s what I loved most about this story; it’s been said in other reviews, but it really is true that this book reads like a love letter to stories and to fantasy stories in particular.
If you grew up with fantasy stories and, like me, have never quite gotten over the disappointment of not receiving your Hogwarts letter or discovering your wardrobe doesn’t, in fact, lead to Narnia, this book is for you. This novel pulled at my gut in the best possible way and reminded me what it is I love about stories and just how powerful they are, how they can brighten up the darkest day by pulling you away from wherever it is you’ve curled up with your book and whispering in your ear: ‘you know that impossible thing? It’s not impossible here.’
I also love this novel’s focus on family, and on parents in particular. Perhaps it’s because I’m so close to my own parents, but I love stories that focus on the characters’ relationship with their parents. There is also a wonderful friendship between January and a fantastic character called Jane and a dash of romance, too, but I loved that the romance wasn’t a huge part of the plot. At least not January’s romance. Yule Ian and Ade, on the other hand, I loved, but you need to read this book to discover their story.
I came very close to giving this novel 5 stars, and the only thing that really prevented me from doing so was that I felt like it took January a little too long to realise who the real villain was. Why it takes her a while to realise it is explained within the novel, and what I love about January is how aware she is that she isn’t a brave heroine in a novel but a 17-year-old girl who has no idea what to do, but there were moments when I was reading this novel where I wanted to give her a little shake because obviously that person wasn’t to be trusted.
That aside, I loved this novel and I particularly loved the ending and how hopeful it is. This is a novel for everyone still keeping an eye out for the white rabbit.