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

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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.

RATING: ☆★☆★☆

I dove over that unseen edge and plunged into the dark waters below, where the unreal became real, where the impossible swam by on glimmering fins, where I could believe it all.

I almost didn’t write this review.

I felt that to speak of this book would be to contain what it did to me, to diminish it somehow. And I didn’t want to do that. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is almost less a novel than an experience: never have I felt more like I was part of things, moved by the same current, like my soul had disconnected from my body and drifted among fictional souls in a mist somewhere between fantasy and reality. It seemed hardly credible when I finished reading that I couldn’t follow the words back to a world where this wasn’t mere fiction. Of course the sensible part of me informed me, patiently, that none of it had any more bearing on real life than a dream, yet in the surreal fuzziness of the night, I felt—on a bone-deep, irrational, completely unshakable level—the possibility that I might turn a key, open a door and unlock the mysteries of the world. Even the morning’s clarity couldn’t snatch that away.

You see—to read The Ten Thousand Doors of January is to fill your whole life with it. Those minutes—hours—that my gaze was connected to the page, were the only moments in my day that I felt anything at all. Which is why I feel that to share this account, or give anything away, would do a disservice to a reader just coming to this novel, but suffice it to say this:

It all started, as great tales often do, with a book. The rush of turning a page and a story beginning.

But that isn’t the true beginning of this story. Perhaps it is more apt to say that it all started with a Door. (Really, though. Semantics.)

January Scaller grew up uneasily lodged with the immensely wealthy Cornelius Locke, her childhood a half-painted picture without her father in it while he disappeared for days, months, to buy off with Locke’s gold coins—more often, plunder—marvels and oddities that emerged every day from rumors and fables carried by travelers across oceans and deserts to fire the imaginations of rich folk around the world. For years, January was as molten glass in Locke’s hands, to be spun into the (dutiful, docile, un-temerarious) shape he liked, and with the pall of every goodbye, what once used to be fluent between January and her father soon became incomprehensible, and far more difficult to translate. Now consumed by a sense of dreary imprisonment within Locke’s sprawling mansion and suffering an undimmed longing for an absentee father, January’s spirit grew feeble, as though some river within herself had long since dried.

Until one day, January Scaller stumbles upon a book, and she is suddenly lost and found and wandering, all at once.

Following the threads of history through its tangle, January reads about locked Doors that opened at your knock if you put enough faith into the turn of your key, about young girls who wished for surprises around each road’s turning and yearned for adventure with a hard, physical longing, like a craving for air underwater, and young boys who could never really step back from brinks no matter how perilous was the drop and whom the world almost no longer held a place (or a Door, for that matter) to hide from. Stories that made January feel that the world went on so much further than she could see, and carried with them the faint scent of—if not freedom, then the coiled charge of its possibility.

When one enters a door, one must be brave enough to see the other side.

Like a lighthouse at sea drawing us to safety, The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a tonic for anyone who feels the world is too much sometimes.

Harrow has written a jewel of a novel that grips readers from the opening sentence, and the author’s gifts as a writer are unmistakable, as keen as an unsheathed blade. She delivers a pleasurably devoured piece of prose, but placed within a novel about people who all have a whiff of the unwanted silently hovering about them, and a forlorn wish for belonging lodged within them, finding each other across worlds guided by nothing but the small, sickly faith they keep between them, she creates a story saturated with so much yearning and ache.

And even more than the plot, the characters, the astoundingly unique turns of phrase, and the skill with which the author brings the intersecting storylines to a resounding ending that was both healing and fraught with pain, what I loved most about this book—and what I will remember most ardently about it—is the way the author succeeds in giving the desperate earnestness of her storytelling the quality of a memory, so that her words ring as resonantly as aged wood. And although I knew none of it was real, I also knew it wasn’t not real, and the two knowings drunkenly chased circles in my mind, dizzying me. And therein, I think, lies the book’s biggest triumph: in its ability to convince and compel, to conjure up the indescribable—the unfathomable—through language, to make you believe. To show you a door and hand you a key and invite you to embrace the thrilling and sickening lurch of the drop.

So, if you ever wondered how it would feel to stand on the threshold of a living dream, I promise this book is your key.

My long years of research have taught me that all stories, even the meanest folktales, matter. They are artifacts and palimpsests, riddles and histories. They are the red threads that we may follow out of the labyrinth. It is my hope that this story is your thread, and at the end of it you find a door.


14 thoughts on “Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

  1. Omg omg what a beautifully penned review. This was the best review I have read in this whole year. You carry a beauty in your soul which came out as words. Every word every line spoke of your love for this book. Simply awed by you. Wow

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have been lucky enough to stumble upon three books all at once whose words are so beautiful and this is one of them. I typically read multiple books at the same time, but these books are teaching me to slow down and savor. They are just so beautiful. Great review.


  3. I just finished Ten Thousand Doors and I have no idea how I’m supposed to write an actual review. How am I supposed to describe that experience??
    Wonderful review!


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