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.
*Big thanks to NetGalley and RedHook for sending me a kindle edition in exchange for an honest review*
WOW. This book is every bit as wonderful, enchanting and charming as you’d hope for after such an intriguing synopsis. I can’t quite describe how much it touched me and took me back to the feeling of being younger and reading a fantastical story and desperately wishing it was real. This story is one for readers who love magic in the everyday, those who enjoy a beautifully crafted story and want to root for characters who feel achingly real.
The book is focused on January Scaller, a bi-racial young girl who has spent all her life under the care of Mr. Locke, a collector of strange and wonderful oddities. She spends most of her life alone and largely ignored, partly due to her position as ward and also because she is a woman of colour in an upper class, white dominated world. She longs for adventure and travel with her father, Julian who travels to exotic and far flung locations to add items to Mr Lockes collection. Her life is pretty much hum drum until one day when seven year old January finds a Door. This is not just any door however, this door allows her to enter a whole other world and begins a quest for knowledge, magic and adventure beyond her wildest dreams…
“It is at the moments when the doors open, when things flow between the worlds, that stories happen.”
After this discovery, January is told to forget all about it and focus on being a refined and well behaved young lady and for a time, she adheres to Lockes rules…that is until she finds a mysterious book entitled ‘The Ten Thousand Doors’ and it changes everything. Within the book, January reads about a bold young woman named Adelaide who meets a young man who came through a mysterious door, and their touching and beautiful love story, their untimely separation then long journey back to each other.
I loved the ‘book within a book’ feature here, it works so well, while we’re reading Januarys story, we also get to follow the tale of ‘The Ten Thousand Doors’ and I was super invested in both threads. It was so enjoyable reading the way fact and fiction merged for January and how the book acts as a wondrous escape and source of power for a girl who loves stories. I think we can all relate to indulging in a good book, movie or tv series and it being a source of escapism, and ‘The Ten Thousand Doors of January‘ offers all that and more.
“How fitting, that the most terrifying time in my life should require me to do what I do best: escape into a book.”
I really liked January and she was such an interesting and intelligent protagonist, with quirks and flaws which made her feel real. I think that her relationships with the other characters, also emphasised all the qualities I liked so much; her care, compassion and courage to name a few. She has a complicated relationship with her father, who is absent a lot of the time and towards her guardian, Mr Locke. This is something she struggles with, as she feels indebted to Locke for his perceived kindness but also recognises that he views her as an oddity, not a person in her own right and wishes to mould her into what he wants. I liked that Harrow explores the racial tension of the time period and doesn’t gloss over it, as exhibited when January is placed in an asylum due to her standing up to Locke and his cronies. It shows just how fragile her position is and how easy it is for the powers that be to subdue those who don’t fit into the tidy margins they put others into.
“This was the true violence Mr. Locke had done to me. You don’t really know how fragile and fleeting your own voice is until you watch a rich man take it away as easily as signing a bank loan.“
Unlike in some books in this genre, the secondary characters are just as well realised as January and I really liked how they fit in to the story and shaped the narrative. I loved Jane and Samuel and Jan’s beloved dog, Sindbad. Janes backstory in particular was amazing and I’d happily read a whole book based on her adventures prior to meeting January. Every heroine needs a loyal furry friend and Sindbad, or just Bad as he is called, is the most adorable little guy. Samuel is Januarys only friend growing up, they bond over reading and he offers her a view into the outside world, without any restrictions or barriers. They had such a sweet, budding love story and it’s nice to read a book where the characters are shy around each other and take it slow.
The writing is absolutely stunning and there were so many excellent passages and quotes, it’s descriptive in the best way, so utterly lush and immersive. I can’t believe that this is a debut novel, because Alix E. Harrow has such a mastery of wording and tone which is truly hard to find. After doing a little research, I’ve found that Harrow has written some short stories which I’m definitely interested in reading, I seriously adore her writing so I can’t wait to dive in to those.
Overall, The Ten Thousand Doors of January was a joy to read and I can’t sing its praises highly enough. It had everything which I love in a story; magic, adventure, emotion and a courageous and flawed heroine, making it the complete package. This novel definitely deserves all the success and hype it will undoubtedly receive and I know that others will love it just as much as I did. It’s a love letter to reading and the wonder of a really good book.
Until next time,