Published: 10th September 2019
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Trigger warnings: Racism, animal cruelty
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.
There are some books that leave you marvelling over the fact that it is the author’s debut novel, and for me this is the latest of them. With The Ten Thousand Doors Of January, Alix E. Harrow has produced a shining example, for this is a hugely imaginative, majestically written work of fiction that left me thoroughly captivated.
It is a book that combines history and fantasy, told with an intricate level of detail and depth. To begin with, the concept is original and extremely fascinating, and this is complimented by a riveting plot that gradually gathers pace, along with a strong cast of memorable characters that extend from the spirited to the malevolent.
Immediately upon starting the book, we are introduced to January herself; the narrator. She is a seventeen year-old girl in the care of wealthy collector Cornelius Locke. Her father rarely visits, instead spending most of his time seemingly conducting archaeological missions. At Locke House, January is educated and cared for, but lives a lonely and sheltered life.
She then comes across a small bound book, telling of the existence of hidden Doors that are passages between worlds. The revelations that follow and the choices that January makes give way to a plot that becomes increasingly compelling and action-packed as she is relentlessly pursued by a group of people that are hell-bent on stopping her.
The concept is much more than just a very bright idea. It is brilliantly constructed and multi-layered, and just like almost every other aspect of this book, a great deal of thought clearly went into it. I liked the idea of the Threshold and the In-Between, while the Doors themselves are treated with the same reverence and secrecy of Dust in the His Dark Materials series.
January is a reasonably good protagonist and an even better narrator. I effortlessly found myself rooting for her, and I liked the way she developed as a character. The author also did a good job of presenting some of her flaws and moments of indecision as she uncovers more of the truth, which allowed her to be more balanced and relatable.
I also enjoyed reading about all of the other characters. Samuel and Jane are both likeable and along with Bad, make really good companions for January. For me, Mr. Locke was the most complex, and possibly the most interesting. Then there is Havemeyer, an ideal exponent of ice-cold villainy.
One thing that is consistent throughout the story is the quality of the writing. It is incredibly – and effectively – descriptive, littered with all kinds of similes and metaphors and personifications. I loved every moment when emphasis is placed on the shape of a letter and how it brought some of the words to life.
That said, the pace is fairly slow to start off with, and it did take me a little bit of time to fully connect with the book despite the intriguing concept. But once things started to fall into place, it became deeply immersive.
With all the transporting between worlds and through almost as many doors as Monsters, Inc, the book encompasses a large number of settings. I personally wished that some of them could have been explored more and developed to a greater extent. Along with something that happens at the end which was not well explained, that is my main negative point.
Overall, this is fantastical and eye-catching read that brings together innovative ideas, terrific storytelling, a memorable group of diverse characters, and a gloriously graceful style of writing. A bit more work on the settings would have been nice, but this is still quite the literary escapade.
As stated before, The Ten Thousand Doors of January is Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel, after a life so far which has seen her work as a historian among other things, and amass numerous library fines along the way.
She currently lives in Kentucky with her husband and two children.
This book is a showcase of great writing and impressive character development, with a plot that compels increasingly until the last.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5