‘The Ten Thousand Doors of January’ is a beautiful book. The writing is as gorgeous and magical as the subject matter, taking you away into a world of infinite doors and infinite possibilities. It’s a book about dreams, about believing in something more, about daring to go looking for something beyond your front door. For those who use fiction as escapism, this is the ultimate escape.
“Sentences may alter the weather, and poems might tear down walls. Stories might change the world.”
The protagonist, January, is a seventeen-year-old who grew up as the ward of a wealthy collector, Mr Locke, in turn-of-the-20th century Vermont. Her father works for Mr Locke, travelling across the globe to find treasures for his collection. She never knew her mother. January is in some ways a spoilt child, living in a large house and given education and luxuries that other girls like her – darker skinned but light eyed, an ‘in between thing’ as Mr Locke calls her – couldn’t access. However, she is also a caged child, kept as a jewel in the collection. She has to be good – quiet, docile, a pampered pet rather than a person of her own. There’s no space in her life for adventures.
But of course, adventure finds her as it is wont to do.
“I wanted wide-open horizons and worn shoes and strange constellations spinning above me like midnight riddles. I wanted danger and mystery”
There are two narrative threads woven throughout the novel – January’s life, as she’s living it, and ‘The Ten Thousand Doors’, a book she found in a random chest in her sponsor’s vast collection that tells a story of something January barely dared to believe in – the Doors between words. It’s a very effective technique, gradually revealing secrets without sacrificing narrative pace. ‘The Ten Thousand Doors’ sections were written in an entirely different font of different size and with different formatting, clearly differentiating them from the main plot.
The cast of supporting characters is varied and intriguing.
Mr Locke, the collector, is adored by January – more present in her life than her own father, he moulds her into his vision of the perfect daughter – but he keeps her isolated and shut away, and it’s clear that there’s more to him than there seems.
Julian, January’s true father, plays more of a cameo role in her life, but you feel for him every time – this loving man who so rarely gets the chance to see his daughter, and whose daughter resents him for it.
Jane is the badass warrior woman we all need in our lives, but also complex with her own difficulties and emotional traumas.
Samuel is the least substantial of the main cast, but in a story about hopes and dreams he has a role to play.
I won’t mention too much about Adelaide or Yule – you can find out their story for yourselves.
At times, I did struggle with the childlike tone of the narration. January is seventeen but reads much younger. That being said, she’s lived a very sheltered and pampered life, and this is a book about dreams and adventure and other things we’re constantly told are childish. The tone of the narration fits the story – it fits January, the girl who dared to dream when everyone tried to lock her in a box and make her conform. She refused to grow up; refused to grow out of believing in stories. This is a book which demands that the reader let go of their adult cynicism and re-find that childish optimism – that there’s more to the world than there seems.
This isn’t a book for everyone – the plot can be somewhat predictable, and it’s a book with capital V Villains rather than the more complex, relatable villains that add so much interest to a story – but for those who like beautiful prose, stories about hope and dreams and other worlds, stories about going looking for adventure and believing so much in finding it that you can step off the map entirely, this is the book for you. I hope it takes you somewhere else for a while.
“It is my hope that this story is your thread, and at the end of it you find a door.”
Published by Orbit
Hardback: 10th September 2019
Paperback: 14th May 2020
The Ten Thousand Doors of January was Alix E Harrow’s debut novel. Her second, entirely unrelated, book ‘The Once and Future Witches’ will be published by Orbit on 13th October 2020.