Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Release Date: 12 Sept 2019 (UK)/ 10 Sept 2019 (US)
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 57
(see breakdown below)
I received a free eARC copy from Little, Brown Book Group/Orbit UK , via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.
In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.
Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.
Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding debut–step inside and discover its magic.
Content Warning: this book contains a suggestion of violence against an animal. It is mild but, if you are unsettled by reading such a scene then this may not be the book for you
The blurb for The Ten thousand doors of January is one of those that do not quite do justice to the true magic that within the pages. Most would read it and think they are going to depart on a rich portal fantasy. This is both utterly true and completely false all at the same time. The Ten thousand doors of January is like no other portal fantasy I have read before. It is a complex and beautifully woven tapestry of tales of growning up, finding yourself, finding your souls home, tales of family and friendship and of course the magic of other worlds.
The writing in this book is everything. It is actually dual perspective but in the most fascinating of ways, we have January’s tale a recounting of her life, encountering Doors (with a capital) and how they changed everything she knew, but also we get the chapters of the mysterious book January encounters. It starts as an Academic Dissertation of the Theory of such Doors and dissolves into the personal journey of that books writer. These two perspectives and their stories become linked in such an intricate and balanced yet delicate manner, as you the reader move through both stories, that in itself is truly magical.
The glimpses we get bind some of the Doors is filled with rich descriptions and depth of emotion, that hint at so much more being contained behind them with all of their own stories, if only we could spend more time there. In fact my only criticism is I wish there was more worlds to explore and more time spent in them. Then again, that would make this a very different and probably slightly less magical book.
While the world building is delicious, I would say this is more of a character driven tale. It’s about the relationships January his built throughout her life, those she has lost and wishes to regain, those that are not what she originally thought. It’s about her growing up and finding herself. I enjoyed January as a character, she didn’t fall into the “chosen one” instead she learned and grew over time, established herself and her relationships. The questioning of what makes the villain and Villain (capital V) is also an interesting aspect. It questions a lot of these sorts of aspects and that’s what makes these characters interesting.
The pacing is slow but not in a detrimental way. Instead it allows you to savour moments, pick up on connections and see how everything intertwines in such a natural and conversational way. It has dashes of romance, of magic, of mystery all in the right places to keep the pages turning. Harrow manages to project a feeling of bittersweet melancholy with the golden lining of hope that is just gorgeous to read. The whole book just has that lovely comforting feeling of something magical and warming, sweet but not sickly. It is lyrical, imaginative and quite possibly my favourite read of the year!
Finally, The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a story about books, about stories and about words. It’s about the power all of these have to change a persons thoughts, feelings, circumstances. How they shape knowledge, how they can transport a person somewhere entirely and how they can have impact in people lives. There is a hidden love letter to tales, stories and books buried within the pages of this story. As a passionate reader myself this resonated with me, it sung a song I recognised so strongly. From the first page I knew I had encountered something special, by the end of that page I had pre-ordered the book, and by the last page I was glad I had. It’s just beautiful.