The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – REVIEW
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.
“There are ten thousand stories about ten thousand Doors, and we know them as well as we know our names. They lead … to all the directions a compass could never take you, to elsewhere.”
As soon as I finished this book I knew it would be one of my favourites of the year. It’s difficult to describe the enchantment this story weaves and the sense of utter perfection it leaves the reader feeling. Suffice to say, it’s a book for book lovers, written by a bibliophile with a reverence for stories and a belief in the power of words and the indelible marks they leave on readers. It’s not a book filled with action so you’ll be disappointed if that’s what you’re looking for. Instead, every word has a purpose as it explores the Doors that can take you into fantasy worlds and elsewhere.
“All stories, even the meanest folktales, matter. They are artifacts and palimpsests, riddles and histories. They are the red thread that we may follow out of the labyrinth.”
Set in 1911, the main character is seventeen-year-old January Scaller, a wilful and curious biracial child who is slowly forced to conform to societal expectations of female behaviour under the watchful eye of her guardian. Her first-person point of view alternates with extracts from a scholarly text, The Ten Thousand Doors. Alongside January, we experience a rising sense of adventure, exploration and the idea of wanting more than society deems you deserve. The characters are all nuanced and complex; there’s not a wasted character in the whole story and each is deservedly memorable and unique.
“I hope you will keep the world unruly, messy, full of strange magics; I hope you will run through every open Door and tell stories when you return.”
The beautifully lyrical prose sweeps the reader along as they accompany January on her journey of discovery. The story explores themes of racism, patriarchy, and misogyny, whilst contrasting chaotic and ever-changing magic with social order, stability and ‘progress’. Worlds are crossed, epic loves are torn asunder, hidden histories are revealed yet the author firmly roots the narrative in the simplest magic of all – words. My review feels unanchored because it’s impossible to capture the essence of this incredible story. However, be assured that if you love books you’ll love The Ten Thousand Doors of January.