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

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

TS’ rating: 5 of 5 stars

Haïfa’s rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: Stand-alone

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Published: September 12th, 2019 by Orbit (UK) & September 10th, 2019 by Redhook (US)


TS’s Review

ARC provided by the publisher, Orbit.

Incredibly lush, exquisite and enchanting, The Ten Thousand Doors of January has all the makings of a classic. One which I’m certain will be well-loved and much-read. And I dare say not only by those who enjoy fantasy, for this novel is pure joy in literary form that is a tribute to almost every reader out there.

Do you love books? This book is for you.

Do you love the written word? This book is for you.

Do you love stories and escapism? This book is for you.

When I first laid my eyes upon the cover of The Ten Thousand Doors of January, it was love at first sight. Far from it for me to advise anyone to judge a book by its cover, but in this instance its entire package justified my feelings when I gaze upon that thing of beauty. A few months’ back, I came across Alix E. Harrow’s beautiful short story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”, which made my anticipation to read her debut novel grow even further. It did not surprise me at all that said short story even won the Hugo Awards this year. You can read this wonderful little tale here.

With such eager anticipation and high expectations, I was naturally anxious when I finally started reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January. And especially when my co-reviewer Celeste, who adored the book with all her heart, ardently believed that I will love it as well. I read the first few sentences and I was entranced. The writing was simply exquisite. It felt like reading a classic but without the pretense; the prose was literary without trying to be so. It felt familiar in tone but there was also a sense that I’ll be taken on a journey like no other. And in no time, I was swept off my feet.

I am not going into any description about the story. What I will say is that it has one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve read. It was not just a love story between two persons, however, but a love story dedicated to books, to the power of the written word, to wanderlust and to mankind’s ever faithful companion.

“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.”

The main character of January Scaller felt real and alive under the masterful strokes of Harrow’s penmanship. This is not a particularly long book, but the characterisation of the January and the supporting characters was marvellously rendered. The story was told from a combination of January’s perspective and from the author of the in-world book “Ten Thousand Doors”. Each with its distinctive personality and tone, but both equally enthralling to read.

As a portal fantasy, the magical backbone of the story dealt with Doors which can transport anyone who crosses its Threshold into other realms and worlds. Being readers of fantasy, we can easily appreciate the joys of escapism. Books are our portals to imaginary worlds and to great adventures with new friends (and sometimes even old ones), all while remaining physically safe although I can’t say the same about our hearts.

“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.”

Where did the power of the written word come in then? That I cannot reveal for it begs to be discovered. In any case, the sheer beauty of the writing in this book should convince you that the written word has a magic of its own. Reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January was a sensorial experience, where every word and every immaculate and wondrous turn of phrase tantalized my senses.

“Words and their meanings have weight the world of matter, shaping and reshaping realities through a most ancient alchemy. Even my own writings—so damnably powerless—may have just enough power to reach the right person and tell the right truth, and change the nature of things.”

This is unlike any fantasy book you would’ve read before. Almost literary in flavour but eminently magical in essence, The Ten Thousand Doors of January will transport you into another world within the world we know of. The pacing can be said to be languid for most of the narrative but it is thoroughly engaging. With such an spellbinding read, why would you want it to be over so soon anyway?

Do not miss entering this Door to an amazing and wondrous journey through a magical landscape of words and stories.


Haïfa’s Review

 

I would like to thank the publisher, Orbit, for providing an early copy in exchange for an honest opinion. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

This book was everything I hoped it would be, and more! It was sweet, it was heartbreaking and heart-mending at the same time. Rarely has a book exceeded my expectations, stimulated my imagination and filled me with wonder the way The Ten Thousand Doors of January has. Rarely has a book rekindled my love for reading, my hunger for a good story and beautiful words as this book has.

It is at the moments when the doors open, when things flow between the worlds, that stories happen.

And rarely has a book come knocking at my door in such a timely fashion.

Reading has been and will always be my passion, my companion and my means of evading. But we’ve had some difficulties lately, what with me swinging in and out of book slumps, being too busy, too tired, too lazy, re-shelving a multitude of books not because they’re bad, but because the timing wasn’t right. I’ve been longing for a book that will erase the fatigue, the indifference and carve a doorway into my heart and mind.

…and some naive corner of my soul was holding its breath in expectation, waiting for something magical to happen.

And something magical did indeed happen to my reading self! I’ve been meaning to take a break after I closed The Ten Thousand Doors. But some Doors aren’t meant to be closed! Here I am, starting a new book and barely able to stop myself from leaping to the next chapter.

“You see, doors are many things: fissures and cracks, ways between, mysteries and borders. But more than anything else, doors are change.”

What else to expect from a book that is an ode to books and readers, to the written word and to the “word-workers”? But also an ode to dreams untouched by adulthood’s shackles, to the flame that animated us as children and made us believe everything was possible and within our reach. I loved how it celebrated freedom and adventure and how it accurately dealt with loneliness, loss, abandon and broken promises. And I loved the ever-presence of books and stories and fairytales in the narrative.

I wanted wide-open horizons and worn shoes and strange constellations spinning above me like midnight riddles. I wanted danger and mystery and adventure.

January was an endearing main character. And she was the perfect narrator in my opinion, sometimes a detached (but not without wit and cheekiness) storyteller but mostly an ever growing, continuously learning, realistically painted protagonist. Despite a mostly absent father, a deceased mother and being “oddly colored” (in a hostile world and era for people of color), January has lived a rather luxurious and sheltered life under Mr Locke’s wing. But a sheltered life isn’t synonymous for a happy one. And underneath the thick layers of submissiveness and good manners lurks an adventurous, dreaming, barely tamed soul whose constraints would be tested the day she discovers The Thousand Doors, hidden in one of Locke’s treasures.

At this point, you’re thinking this story isn’t really about Doors, but about those more private, altogether more miraculous doors that can open between two hearts.

Just take a look at the simple beauty of those lines! Alix Harrow has such a beautiful, charming, clever and evocative writing that at the same time seems almost effortless. Her debut (Debut! See that capital D, like a mouth hanging open, incredulous before such a ridiculously exquisite prose?) reads like a modern classic or like my friend Celeste astutely remarked “like a children book for adults”. I highlighted furiously, I smiled fondly and I cried tears of joy and of sorrow.

Since the first chapters, I guessed and kept guessing until the end. Almost all my theories were true and you know what? That’s what made the book even more special for me!

How I love this feeling in books, when I guess (or think I guessed) something, or suspect a hidden goal, an endgame and I cannot wait to see it come to pass. Like a love declaration one perceives early on or an inevitable battle between good and evil you expect since the beginning… The beauty of The Ten Thousand Doors wasn’t (only) in its revelations and closure for me but in the way leading to them. “Journey before destination”, right?

I think the author intended for some revelations to be discovered, dropping subtle hints like a trail of breadcrumbs and leaving her reader’s imagination to run freely and try to gather the pieces of the puzzle.

“Sometimes just by telling a story you’re stealing it, stealing a little of the mystery away from it.”

This is a story for every reader, whether you’re a fantasy lover or more of a literary person. Choose a comfortable seat, take your inner child on your lap and let Alix E. Harrow’s beautiful words take you through magical Doors and into ten thousand worlds.

 


Official release date: September 12th, 2019 (UK) and September 10th, 2019 (US)

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

View all TS’s reviews

View all Haïfa’s reviews


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