The Ten Thousand Doors of January: Go read it now

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019), by Alix E. Harrow, is one of the most beautiful books you will read in 2019. It may be one of the most beautiful books you’ll read in your lifetime. When I say it’s beautiful, I don’t simply mean the prose and the imagery, although those both are gorgeous. I mean that this is a beautiful story. The journey of January Scaller, set against the USA’s Long Gilded Age, is a story of plausible hope, of learning to use your own power, and a story of the power of stories.

January Scaller is an “in-between” girl, the ward of the wealthy, powerful and mysterious Cornelius Locke. She is always conscious of her tenuous status.

Sometimes I felt like an item in Mr. Locke’s collection labeled “January Scaller, 57 inches, bronze; purpose unknown.” 

Her father works for Locke, collecting rare art objects, and his work takes him all over the world, far from his daughter. January is not only socially in-between as a person of color, she has a precarious situation in the household and is dependent on Mr. Locke for her survival. Fortunately, Mr. Locke loves her. She’s sure of this.

When January is seven, she wanders away during a business trip to Tennessee, and discovers a door to another world. Mr. Locke is angry about her disappearance and punishes her, and January does not look for doors again for ten years. As a young adult, though, it becomes clear to her that there are other worlds, and in fact, someone has sent her a book from one of them. When the worst happens to her father, January is more dependent than ever on Locke and his Archeological Society, and more acutely aware that her sex, her skin color and her social position have left her vulnerable. She is not without allies, though, and she knows there are other worlds.

January is gifted with a powerful magical legacy; she is the orphan, the lone child against a deeply engrained power structure. This is a kind of character we’ve seen many times before, usually described with words like “plucky,” and “rebellious.” Harrow thoughtfully approaches the character from a different angle. January is curious, but her curiosity is dismissed, redirected or punished. She wants to fit in, and she believes Mr. Locke loves her. She spends a good deal of The Ten Thousand Doors of January trying to be obedient and socially acceptable. This would have been annoying if it hadn’t been made artfully clear just how consistently and carefully January is being controlled and silenced by the men who hold the power. At one point, when January looks up the genesis of her name and stops short of finding out its roots, I was impatient, until I realized just how fully January had internalized the bars of the gilded cage that holds her.

And, as I said, she is not without allies: Sam, the grocer’s boy, her friend since childhood (they share a love of dime novels); Jane Imru, a woman from Africa who is sent by January’s father to help her, and Bad, her loyal and not-well-behaved dog. There is also someone from another world sending her things like the book.

January’s story is not that of the lone, individualistic hero. It is a story of community, of friends, of support networks, and legacies, whether passed down orally or in writing, whether written on paper, or on skin with ink. The Long Gilded Age, which was the greatest concentration of wealth among the smallest minority in US history until now, is a perfect backdrop for January’s journey.

Alix E. Harrow

Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is already nominated for an award, and it’s going to be on most of next year’s lists. You’ll want to read it now. Seriously, go read it now. You’ll thank me.

~Marion Deeds


The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe 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!

~Tadiana Jones

Published in September 2019. 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. Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding debut–step inside and discover its magic. 

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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5 comments

  1. Kelly Lasiter /

    I’m so looking forward to this one!

  2. I am totally sold on this book

  3. I can’t thank y’all enough. A million little heart emojis.

  4. I can’t pass on a recommendation like this. Pre-ordered!

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