Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Author: Alix Harrow
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fiction
My Rating: 5 stars
“I wanted wide-open horizons and worn shoes and strange constellations spinning above me like midnight riddles. I wanted danger and mystery and adventure.”
When January was seven years old, she wrote in her journal about another world, and then found a door that took her there. Being seven years old, none of the adults believed her; they very much discouraged this behavior. Ten years later, January found The Ten Thousand Doors, and this time she decided that she was ready for her journey to begin.
– ice-eyed monsters whose gaze could turn unwary persons to stone, magic lamps and enchanted mirrors, golden fleeces and fountains of youth, dragon-scale armor and moon-streaked broomsticks
– leopard-women, urns and masks and scepters, a fiercely protective yet also cuddly dog named Bad, invisible monsters with fox-toothed smiles
– winged cats that spoke in riddles, sea dragons with mother-of-pearl scales, green cities that floated high in the clouds
This book is pure poetry. Of all the novels I’ve read this year, this one is easily in the top three. Harrow’s writing style swept me off my feet from page one. I was immediately caught up in the story and felt like the words were pulling me into the adventure that was yet to come. I found a new favorite author in Alix Harrow, and couldn’t help but to hang onto every word and stanza. I haven’t copied down this many quotes from a book in as long as I can remember; every paragraph contained a beautiful line or two. The book’s blurb touts it as a “captivating and lyrical debut”, and that’s an exceptionally fitting description. It was very impressive and hard to believe that this is a debut, and I’m definitely looking forward to future works from this author. I will admit that Harrow’s style of writing may not be for everyone, but it hit a sweet spot for me, and I could probably read a story she wrote about standing in line at the post office and be entranced.
“If we address stories as archaeological sites, and dust through their layers with meticulous care, we find at some level there is always a doorway. A dividing point between here and there, us and them, mundane and magical. It is at the moments when the doors open, when things flow between the worlds, that stories happen.”
This book reminded me of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series, in the sense that there is an alternate world/worlds that can be traveled to via connecting doors. But where The Magicians had a dark and depressing tone throughout, The Ten Thousand Doors of January was bright and adventurous, while also having tense and dangerous moments. The pages are full of magic, and while some of the focus bounced around at times, I enjoyed every perspective and side to the story. There are also some similarities with Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, but I found The Ten Thousand Doors of January to have much more sophisticated writing and to encourage the readers imagination and fan the fire of a free spirit instead of trying to teach the reader a lesson. There were also elements that reminded me of Strange the Dreamer; I could come up with all kinds of comparisons to books I’ve already read, but The Ten Thousand Doors of January was completely unique and something you absolutely need to read yourself to appreciate.
“If you’re some stranger who stumbled over this book by chance—perhaps rotting in some foreign garbage pile or locked in a dusty traveling trunk or published by some small, misguided press and shelved mistakenly under Fiction —I hope to every god you have the guts to do what needs doing. I hope you will find the cracks in the world and wedge them wider, so the light of other suns shines through; 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.”
This book is an ode to stories; stories of love and family, tales of adventure, and changing the world through words. January finds a mysterious book and proceeds to take the reader through a series of stories that are pulled from it, and at first I was worried that all these different people and stories would become too disjointed and not come together well. But as I read I could see a solid trajectory forming, and was satisfied with how things finally wove together. Every character in this book is unique, and the author does a wonderful job of painting their individual wants, needs, aspirations, and struggles. It’s rare for a novel to evoke such strong feelings from the reader towards its subjects as this one did. The glimpses into their lives makes each person seem real and like they could walk off the page and exist in our world.
“Oh, my dear, don’t believe everything you read in the story papers. You people are always trying to invent reasons for things. Monsters only come for bad children, for loose women, for impious men. The truth is that the powerful come for the weak, whenever and wherever they like.”
The beginning of the book made it seem like the story would be wistful and dreamy throughout, but towards the halfway mark a Villain (“those capital Vs like dagger points or sharpened teeth”) showed up, and the story started to have a darker tone mixed in with the lightness. Towards the end of the story I thought the author might run out of time to create a satisfying conclusion, but Harrow showed throughout that she knows when things should happen slowly and when things should happen fast, and she pulled everything together perfectly. I already know that this book will be a favorite of mine for years to come, and strongly encourage you to give it a go if you love words and stories and magical worlds.
“In believing, Ade felt the scattered uncertainties of her youth falling away. She was a hound that finally caught the scent it sought, a lost sailor suddenly handed a compass. If doors were real, then she would seek them out, ten or ten thousand of them, and fall through into ten thousand vast elsewheres. And one of them, someday, might lead to a city by the sea.”