Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽'s Reviews > The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
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it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy

ETA: On the Fantasy Literature website, at the link, there's a truly fascinating and insightful interview with this author, Alix Harrow. And one commenter in the thread to that page will win a free copy of this book! Right now the chances are great, about 1 in 10 (not counting comments from people associated with the site), so go give it a shot!

All the stars! Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature (along with my co-reviewer Marion's excellent review):

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is perched at the top of the mountain of portal fantasies that I’ve read in my life. It’s set apart by Alix E. Harrow’s intelligent and truly gorgeous writing, unique characters ― including true friends and a fiercely loyal dog ― and a complex and twisty plot, combined with thoughtful consideration of racial and class prejudice, powerful men who make rules to benefit themselves, and other social issues.

January Scaller is a young girl in early 20th century America, living in the mansion of Mr. Locke, a wealthy collector of rare and unique items. January’s mother is missing and presumed dead, while January’s father Julian spends months on end traveling the globe in search of Mr. Locke’s rare items. And perhaps, searching for something more. Because January and her father are both aware that there are Doors ― portals to different worlds ― and Julian, a black man, has a particular reason for searching out these Doors.

Meanwhile, January is being raised by the mysterious Mr. Locke, a man she both loves and fears, though she tries to convince herself that the fear is unreasonable. With her cedarwood-colored skin, January has never entirely fit into the world of wealth and privilege that she inhabits with Mr. Locke. But she has a strong-willed companion, Jane Irimu, sent to her by her father, and a protective dog, Bad (short for Sinbad, and it’s clear that both versions of his name are appropriate … though he’s bad only to the hidebound or evil characters), given to her by her equally loyal friend Samuel.

Just before her seventeenth birthday, January finds a strange book titled The Ten Thousand Doors that purports to be a monograph on passages and portals between worlds. Primarily, though, it’s about the life and adventures of a young woman named Adelaid Lee Larson (Ade), who finds some Doors of her own.
Books can smell of cheap thrills or painstaking scholarship, of literary weight or unsolved mysteries.

This one smelled unlike any book I’d ever held. Cinnamon and coal smoke, catacombs and loam. Damp seaside evenings and sweat-slick noontimes beneath palm fronds. It smelled as if it had been in the mail for longer than any one parcel could be, circling the world for years and accumulating layers of smells like a tramp wearing too many clothes.

It smelled like adventure itself had been harvested in the wild, distilled to a fine wine, and splashed across each page.
And then one day January makes the mistake of mentioning Doors to Mr. Locke …

I loved Harrow’s meditations on the nature of doors that she weaves into the text: they’re portals, of course, passageways to adventure or love, but also a symbol of healthy change and openness. And occasionally doors are books or even words (“Sometimes I feel that there are doors lurking in the creases of every sentence, with periods for knobs and verbs for hinges.”).

Characters’ names have power in this book: Mr. Locke is, unsurprisingly, antithetical to open magical doors and passageways; the irimu is a creature of African legend, sometimes called a were-leopard. The unprepossessing name Scaller might be (I conjecture here) derived from “scall,” a scabby disorder of the scalp, or the sculling of a rowboat … or, perhaps, something more that’s initially hidden from both the reader’s and January’s understanding.

Through January and other characters, Harrow warns of the dangers of being too good, too quiet, and too accepting of the status quo.
The will to be polite, to maintain civility and normalcy, is fearfully strong. I wonder sometimes how much evil is permitted to run unchecked simply because it would be rude to interrupt it.
The entire book is an encouragement to take action. If I have any complaint at all, it’s that sometimes the narrator is overtly preachy where I would have preferred a more subtle approach (footnote 6, I’m looking at you). But the overall message, to have the courage to do what needs to be done, and to “run through every open Door and tell stories when you return,” is an overwhelmingly positive one.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a magical entry to a wondrous universe. Don’t miss the chance to walk through this doorway!

Initial post: Cheers! I finally got the NetGalley ARC for this book! I was beating the bushes on this one because I really wanted it (I emailed the author and the publisher last week as well as putting in a NetGalley request, which they had ignored for a couple of months. One of those methods finally worked). :)
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Reading Progress

July 8, 2019 – Shelved
July 8, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
July 8, 2019 – Shelved as: fantasy
July 9, 2019 – Started Reading
July 9, 2019 –
3.0% "I should have scurried back to the catfish-smelling hotel and huddled in Mr. Locke’s safe, moneyed shadow, where none of these damn people could reach me; it would have been the proper thing to do. But, as Mr. Locke so often complained, I could sometimes be quite improper, willful, and temerarious (a word I assumed was unflattering from the company it kept)."
July 9, 2019 –
7.0% "Books can smell of cheap thrills or painstaking scholarship, of literary weight or unsolved mysteries.
This one smelled unlike any book I’d ever held. Cinnamon and coal smoke, catacombs and loam. Damp seaside evenings and sweat-slick noontimes beneath palm fronds...
It smelled like adventure itself had been harvested in the wild, distilled to a fine wine, and splashed across each page."
July 9, 2019 –
16.0% "If we were to draw her childhood wanderings on a map, represent her discoveries and destinations in topographic form and trace her winding way through them, we would see her as a girl solving a maze from the center outward, a minotaur working her way free."
July 9, 2019 –
38.0% "Cats, I have found, seem to exist in more or less the same form in every world; it is my belief that they have been slipping in and out of doors for several thousand years. Anyone familiar with house cats will know this is a particular hobby of theirs."
July 9, 2019 –
64.0% "Do you remember when you were six or seven and I returned from the Burmese expedition? It was the first time you didn’t run into my arms when I arrived... Instead you simply stood in your starched little dress, looking up at me as if I were a stranger on a crowded train car.

Too many times, your eyes said. You left me too many times, and now something precious and fragile has broken between us."
July 10, 2019 –
71.0% "Molly Neptune looked only slightly appeased. “I see. And these others?”

Jane lifted her chin. “Are her companions. Charged with keeping her alive and safe.” Companions. See the curve of that C like a pair of outstretched arms? It implied the sort of friends who might slay dragons or go on hopeless quests or swear blood oaths at midnight. I swallowed the urge to fling myself at Jane in gratitude."
July 10, 2019 –
80.0% "I felt like an explorer at the precipice of some new, wild world, armed only with ink and hope; I felt like my mother.
Except that she hadn’t been pursued by invisible monsters with fox-toothed smiles. The giddy grin faded from my face."
July 10, 2019 –
94.0% "She stumbled through dozens of Doors. She saw winged cats that spoke in riddles, sea dragons with mother-of-pearl scales, green cities that floated high in the clouds, men and women made of granite and alabaster. But she never found the only Door she wanted. She wasn’t even sure such a Door existed ..."
July 10, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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Emer (A Little Haze) I read this last week and loved it! Hope you'll feel similarly :)

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Emer (A Little Haze) wrote: "I read this last week and loved it! Hope you'll feel similarly :)"

I really love Alix Harrow's writing style, and I've heard great things about this book, so I'm optimistic.

message 3: by Claudia (new) - added it

Claudia Piña Gosh, I want to read it just for that gorgeous cover

message 4: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie I already want to read it myself!

message 5: by Tandie (new) - added it

Tandie You’ve got me interested! Is the protagonist male or female?

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Tandie wrote: "You’ve got me interested! Is the protagonist male or female?"

Female, although part of the story is told from a male character's POV.

message 7: by Gary (new)

Gary I have this ARC too and now I'm REALLY looking forward to it!

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ I just love her writing style.

Michelle Just requested it. Thanks

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Good luck! I had to jump up and down to get their attention before my NetGalley request was accepted. :)

Michelle LOL I will let you know if I am successful

message 12: by Kat (new) - added it

Kat Valentine Excellent review Tadiana!💖😉👍

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Kat wrote: "Excellent review Tadiana!💖😉👍"

Thanks, Kat! One of these days I'll write the full review. :)

message 14: by Corina (new)

Corina I’m excited to read it - just picked it as my September BOTM

message 15: by Gillyweed (new) - added it

Gillyweed Fisher Is there romance in this story? I saw mention of "love" in the blurb. Wondering what it's like...familial love? Or the romantic sort?

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Mostly family love and friendship, with just a small hint of romance.

message 17: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie This sounds amazing.

message 18: by carol. (new) - added it

carol. And right back atcha--I think you convinced me I need to read this (along with Harrow's short story).

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ carol. wrote: "And right back atcha--I think you convinced me I need to read this (along with Harrow's short story)."

DO IT! They shouldn’t be missed.

message 20: by carol. (new) - added it

carol. Oh, I mean I did read the short story and loved it. I was just on the fence with the whole 'portal fantasy' thing. It wore it's welcome on me in the 80s and 90s, so was somewhat dismayed Harrow was sticking with it for the novel. But sounds like it was okay. ;)

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ After I posted, I realized that's what you meant. :) She has written a couple of other interesting short stories/novelettes a while back that you should check out, though:

“The Autobiography of a Traitor and a Half-Savage” https://www.tor.com/2016/12/14/the-au...

“Do Not Look Back, My Lion” http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.co...

And don't be afraid of reading this one because it's a portal fantasy - it's really quite unique.

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