I received a copy of this book from the publisher (Orbit/Redhook) in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
“Listen, not every story is made for telling. Sometimes just by telling a story you’re stealing it, stealing a little of the mystery away from it.”
The Ten Thousand Doors of January is quite possibly the most achingly beautiful novel I’ve ever read, and I find it mind-boggling that anything this lovely could possibly be a debut novel. There are a scant handful of novels I’ve experienced in my life (The Name of the Wind, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, and The Night Circus come to mind) that were breathtaking debuts of this caliber, and they remain my very favorite books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I’m so incredibly happy to add Alix E. Harrow’s novel to that list.
“If we address stories as archeological 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, mundane and magical. It is at the moment when the doors open, when things flow between worlds, that stories happen.”
As soon as the synopsis and cover art (isn’t that cover almost painfully pretty?) for this book became public, Ten Thousand Doors immediately catapulted to my most anticipated book of 2019. I preordered it for my birthday in February, even though it’s not scheduled to be released until September. Imagine my delight when, less than a week ago, I returned home from church to find an envelope featuring this book’s stunning artwork waiting for me on my doorstep. I’ve never received a more beautiful ARC, and this is the first time I have ever seen a galley delivered in special packaging such as I saw on my stoop. My husband laughed when I darted out of the car before it was even fully in park, leaving my phone and house key and everything else in the vehicle because I was so insanely excited. I tried desperately to pace myself, trying not to read more than 50 pages or so per day so that the book would last as long as possible. Alas, I was hopelessly incapable of sticking to that pace and found the story drawing to a close far too quickly.
“You see, doors are many things: fissures and cracks, ways between, mysteries and borders. But more than anything else, doors are change.”
When you have such a high level of excitement going into a book, it’s very hard to temper your expectations and not be disappointed. And yet, I never once felt disappointed in Ten Thousand Doors. From page one, I fell in love with January Scaller. When we first meet January, she is seven years old and, though her father is living, finds herself being raised by Mr. Locke, his benefactor, as her father travels the world, searching for exotic treasures to bring back to his employer. January is wild and sullen and headstrong and oddly colored, an unfortunate circumstance considering the time and place in which she lives. Worst of all, she’s imaginative. Throughout her childhood years, she is herded and tamed into submission by Mr. Locke and militant nursemaids, and sees less and less of her father. But though she has been bent by her benefactor, she has managed to remain unbroken, and finds many opportunities to test and marvel at the strength of her own character.
“I escaped outdoors (see how that word slips into even the most mundane of sentences? Sometimes I feel there are doors lurking in the creases of every sentence, with periods for knobs and verbs for hinges).”
What I loved the most about January was how alive she seemed. From the very beginning, she had an incredibly strong, distinctive voice, and an open honesty to her character that made her wonderfully believable. She’s far from perfect, and that’s what makes her so engaging. The amount of character development packed into less than 400 pages is astounding. I loved watching this fiery little girl grow into a woman and recapture that spark that had been smothered within her. January has also been blessed with a trio of amazing friends who will do anything in their power to aid her on her quest. I don’t want to describe them and inadvertently take anything away from the reading experiences of others, so I’ll just say that they’re all three brave and loyal and steadfast, but in radically different ways. I’m so impressed that Harrow was able to imbue even her side characters with such heaping amounts of personality and believability.
“At this point, you’re thinking that this story isn’t really about Doors, but about those more private, altogether more miraculous doors that can open between two hearts. Perhaps it is in the end—I happen to believe that every story is a love story if you catch it at the right moment, slantwise in the light of dusk—but it wasn’t then.”
Something else that I loved about this book was its duality. Though January is our protagonist, we also trek right along with her as she reads through a magical book that she found in an antique trunk. The chapters of said magical book are very different in tone and voice than January’s chapters, and I thoroughly enjoyed this added variance. January’s insatiable need to see how that story ended increased my own desire to continue reading. I felt that the author and purpose of the little book were both a bit obvious, but that they were meant to be so, which ensured that the predictability of that particular information couldn’t be in any way disappointing.
“If you are wondering why other worlds seem so brimful of magic compared to your own dreary Earth, consider how magical this world seems from another perspective.”
Between the magical book and the otherworldly Doors mentioned in the title, I was strongly reminded of two books that I adore: Inkheart and Every Heart a Doorway. However, as much as I dearly love the two aforementioned titles, The Ten Thousand Doors of January surpassed them both in my eyes by intermingling the things I love so much about both. As with Inkheart, Ten Thousand Doors makes much of not only books but the words with which they’re crafted. And, as with Every Heart a Doorway, there are magical portals to a multitude of realms, hidden behind and beneath the mundane, and the search for these Doors is an all-consuming quest for certain characters involved. I won’t talk more about January’s Doors, as they are the backbone of her story and readers should learn about these portals as they read, but I love the entire idea of them and desperately wish I could find one of my own, and found them even more enticing than those in McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway.
“Worlds are too complex, too beautifully fractured to be named.”
Though I loved January and her friends, and I rooted for them as they faced down their foes, that was not my favorite element of this novel. And though the plot was everything I could hope for and more, keeping me enthralled and remaining at the forefront of my mind far after I had closed its pages, that was not my favorite aspect, either. The thing I loved most about this book was the absolutely exquisite prose. Harrow is more than an author; she is a Wordsmith, a sorceress wielding a pen in place of a wand. Her writing is effortlessly stunning and unconsciously literary. I’ve read a lot of literary fiction, and fantasy, and literary fiction trying to also be fantasy. I have found very few novels that managed to bridge the gap from literary fiction to fantasy in a compelling and convincing way, though I have found many fantasy authors who, in my opinion, can hold their own with any literary author. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is one of a mere handful of books that I’ve come across that could sit comfortably in either the literary or fantasy genre, and I think it beautifully combines both.
“Doors, he told her, are change, and change is a dangerous necessity. Doors are revolutions and upheavals, uncertainties and mysteries, axis points around which entire worlds can be turned. They are the beginnings and ending of every true story, the passages between that lead to adventures and madness and—here he smiled—even love. Without doors the world’s would grow stagnant, calcified, storyless.”
Not only does Harrow have a gorgeous way with words, but she appreciates the building blocks of language in a way that I’ve rarely if ever seen in fiction. Something she did that I felt was incredibly unique was drawing attention to letters themselves. When a word is important, you capitalize it. And when you capitalize a word, that first letter suddenly becomes a representation of that word. At least, that is what Harrow points out through the eyes and mind of January. For example, when you capitalize the first letter of Villain, doesn’t that V speak of daggers and fangs? That’s what January thinks. When you read this book, which I desperately hope you will, watch for explanations of words like Door and Threshold, Companion and Home. They were such beautiful ideas that my heart kept them, and I know they will come back to me every time I come across these words.
Worlds were never meant to be prisons, locked and suffocating and safe. Worlds were supposed to be great rambling houses with all the windows thrown open and the wind and summer rain rushing through them, with magic passages in their closets and secret treasure chests in their attics.”
This is among the longest reviews I’ve ever written, and I still feel that I haven’t said enough. Or perhaps I’ve said too much. In either case, I hope I was able to convey how much I adore this book, and how deeply it touched me. For the first time in my adult life, I’m honestly contemplating rereading a book immediately, or at least within the same year. Maybe I’ll hold out until release day, and experience it again when I receive my preordered copy. I haven’t read a book twice in one year since I was in middle school. I can already tell that January is going to be one of my dearest friends, and that I’ll be revisiting her often. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a marvel, and I can’t wait for the world to read it.
Release date: September 10(US), and September 12, 2019(UK)
The quotations in the review above were taken from an advance reading copy and are subject to change upon the book’s publication.