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Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix. E. Harrow

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix. E. Harrow

‘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 artefacts 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.’

This book was amazing. I had heard so many good things about it, so my expectations were high going in, and I’m pleased to say that I was in no way disappointed. I admit that I found the beginning a little bit slow, but as the clues as various pieces of the narrative that become much more significant later on begin to filter in, the pace soon picks up. This said, I was pretty much hooked from the start, as I’m a huge fan of anything that involves ancient artefacts, and had an awful feeling about why January was the lone child – and treated as she is – in such a place. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is such a magical and immersive book that it’s one you won’t want to end and will quite happily live in for the duration of your reading.

The story is of January Scaller, the ward of Mr Locke, who she knows to be involved in some variety of artefact procurement, for the father she rarely sees is an employee of his and often on trips to secure one object or another to be added to the already vast collection. January finds herself discontent with a life of loneliness and an odd brand of ‘parental’ affection from Mr Locke, who grows more dissatisfied with her as she ages and learns more and more to ask questions and speak out in ways society doesn’t appreciate from a girl – and especially not a girl quite so different as she is. She first discovers a Door (an opening between one world and another) in her early years, only for it to be deliberately destroyed and what she’s experienced dismissed as something fanciful that she must leave behind, the threat of what will happen to her made plain enough that she outwardly gives up on the idea of Doors, yet maintains her belief in and need for them until she is almost grown.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is written as a story within a story (within a story?), and shifts between January’s threads of the narrative to a book that she has been gifted: the most important book that she will ever read. I don’t want to spoil it, as what’s discovered in and with the book is some of the most beautiful content. I love books that experiment with narrative structure and how to reveal significant information in not necessary a linear fashion, and this is exploited particularly well in The Ten Thousand Doors of January. There are other moments where direct address to the reader is used, particularly to ruminate on the nature of letters and words, and academic footnotes are added to book within a book in a charming manner, and it’s all these little features that work together to remind you that, yes, you are reading a book, but the book itself is another world that contains other worlds… The whole thing is essentially a love letter to words and language and the power they have. It’s just a stunning read, and though there’s so much I want to talk about, I’m trying really hard to avoid specific spoilers, as I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s experience of the book!

The paperback was released in the middle of May and also contains an interview with the author, Alix. E. Harrow, and ten questions for discussions at a reading group (if you have a group and you’re looking for a read with a vast wealth of features to discuss, this is certainly your book). I don’t often buy into the general experience of book ‘hangovers’, but it’s been days since I finished this and I still have lines from it running through my head. This is a text that I simultaneously wish were an option to study and would never want to subject to such a variety of cold scrutiny; I both want to share The Ten Thousand Doors of January with as many as possible and to keep it to myself.

Thank you, Orbit Books, for sending me a copy for review!