The Ten Thousand Doors of January
by Alix E. Harrow
384pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 9.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.21/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.23/5

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is Hugo Award–winning author Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel, and it is a treasure—enchanting, wondrous, beautifully written, a book that feels like it was penned specifically for bibliophiles and fantasy fans, a story that seems destined to one day be a classic.

This historical portal fantasy set during the early 1900s is the tale of January Scaller, a young woman residing in a Vermont estate owned by Mr. Locke, the wealthy chairman of the New England Archaeological Society for whom her father works. Since her father is usually traveling all over the world collecting artifacts for his employer, January rarely sees him and spends more time with Mr. Locke, occasionally even accompanying him on his own trips.

During one such trip when she was seven years old, January discovered a Door in the middle of a field in Kentucky. At first it appeared to be an ordinary (if rather randomly placed) door, one that she could simply walk through and just be a step away from where she had been, looking at the same exact field and sky. After writing in her pocket diary about finding a magic Door, January stepped through it again, believing it to be exactly what she wrote, and found herself in a whole new world with a silver sea and white city. But when January shared what she saw with Mr. Locke, he scolded her for inventing fanciful tales, had her locked in her room as punishment, and lectured her on the necessity of being “a good girl who minds her place.” Desperate for love as a lonely child who barely knew her only parent and felt out of place with her dark skin and light eyes, she did her best to mold herself into the person Mr. Locke wanted her to be from that day forward.

At seventeen years old, January is no longer accused of being willful and temerarious, although most of her friends are still fictional besides her protective dog Bad (short for Sindbad, of course). Then she comes across a mysterious book titled The Ten Thousand Doors, which is both a scholarly account of Doors like the one she encountered a decade before—how they are change as they open the way for mythologies and magic to seep into our world—and a personal account of the change they brought to the author’s life, a story of true love, adventure, determination, and tragedy complete with delightful footnotes. And in reading this book, January’s life is also changed.

I first read The Ten Thousand Doors of January a couple of months ago and had been hoping to have this post completed around the time of its publication last week, but the idea of trying to at all accurately capture this novel’s essence in a mere book review was—and actually still is—rather daunting. (Seriously, my notes on this began with “How do I describe this book? How????”) I ended up rereading much of it again in hopes of being better able to do it justice, but I’m still at a bit of a loss when it comes to attempting to encapsulate the heart and scope of this lovely work. It is just so much (in the very best of ways).

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is an ode to words, imagination, and the power of stories. It’s about how they can take up residence in one’s soul, showing them something true and meaningful—and, at the same time, it is just that type of story.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is an ode to outsiders and dreamers. It’s an ode to being who you are despite society’s attempts to shape you into someone you’re not; it’s an ode to those who dare to write their own stories and choose their own paths regardless—especially those whose spirits the powerful want to crush.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is about violence perpetrated by the mighty—not so much physical violence, but mainly oppression and the stifling of voices. It’s about the villainy inherent in resisting progress and the way civility and politeness can be weaponized to allow corruption to continue to run rampant. Yet is is ultimately hopeful.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January contains prose imbued with insightful, unique descriptions peppered with literary references and observations on everything from the shapes of letters to the senses, especially aromas. Though the style is different, it reminded me of Laini Taylor’s writing in that it’s dripping with unusual imagery that is nevertheless the perfect fit. And the voices are fantastic—both January’s first person perspective and the chapters from The Ten Thousand Doors have one-of-a-kind turns of phrase and bibliophilic narrators, yet each is distinctly different.

It can be a rather self aware novel at times, but I felt that worked for a book that is itself in part a tribute to stories. Though January is surprised by some parts that are predictable, I thought that made sense given her isolation and upbringing. The only issue I had was that I did find some sections more riveting than others, but that’s a minor issue. Basically, I enjoyed it wholeheartedly and found all of it to be engaging but simply found some passages more engaging than others.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a gorgeous work of literary art, and I suspect it’s a book that will not soon fade from memories and bookshelves but one that will be read and remembered for years to come. It’s certainly a novel that I find unforgettable—and one that permanently belongs on my own bookshelf.

My Rating: 9.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher (Orbit/Redhook).

Read an Excerpt from The Ten Thousand Doors of January