The Ten Thousand Doors of January: a young girl finds magical doors between worlds
The Ten Thousand Doors of January #1 by Alix E. Harrow
Modern Mrs Darcy 20 #7: nominated for a 2020 award, Popsugar 20 #6: bildungsroman
Published 2019, 374 pages
I'm on a reading roll right now! I read this book right after finishing Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, another magic-based novel and wasn't prepared to read two such excellent books back to back! This book had me from the first couple sentences:
"When I was seven, I found a door. I suspect I should capitalize that word, so you understand I'm not talking about your garden- or common-variety door that leads reliably to a white-tiled kitchen or bedroom closet. When I was seven, I found a Door. There - look how tall and proud the word stands on the page now, the belly of that D like a black archway leading into white nothing."
From this beginning, I'm drawn ever more deeply into the life of January Scaller and grow up with her and her wealthy 'foster' father and a series of housekeepers in a big old house filled with oddities and treasures. Raised as an only child by a stern but not uncaring or abusive man, until age seven when she found her first door, January was a willful, sometimes disobedient child (a normal kid). After telling Mr. Locke (her foster dad) about the door, her life becomes much more restricted, the rules more rigid, her life more unhappy.
She has no friends, rarely leaves the property, and lives a very narrow life. Actually, she has one childhood friend, Samuel, who lives in the nearby village and sneaks dime novels to her when she's no longer allowed to play outside. He plays a larger role later. Her father is an employee of Mr. Locke and travels the world searching for unusual treasures that he obtains for him, so she only sees him rarely. As she gets older, these interactions become less frequent and more uncomfortable as neither knows what to say to the other. January knows nothing about her mom.
Adventures Begin for January
Then, at age 17 January reaches a turning point in her life. A series of events occur that encourage/force her to leave her home in search of.......her parents, a life, herself. The second half of the book is about that search - a series of adventures and threats to overcome as she finds her bravery and learns about herself and her history. She discovers the power that she holds when someone believes in you.
This is a fast paced read (or maybe it just felt that way to me because I didn't want to put it down). The character of January is amazingly well developed - the others, Mr. Locke, Samuel, Jane, her mom and dad, are all interesting supporting characters.
"We are her companions. Charged with keeping her alive and safe. Companions. See the curve of that C like a pair of outstretched arms? It implied the sort of friends who might slay dragons or go on hopeless quests or swear blood oaths at midnight."
I loved the originality of the concept of this story - magical doors to other worlds. I loved the growth and development of January. I loved the inclusion of a strong dog character (Sinbad, Bad for short) who became her faithful protector and companion. I loved the prose, the style of story-telling by Harrow. I loved the book-within-a-book aspect of the story. I loved her parents love story and the gentle beginnings of love January experiences and is handled beautifully. I always have a problem with superfluous love stories - this book doesn't fall into that trap.
"...What is written is what is true. Words and their meanings have weight in 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 to tell the right truth, and change the nature of things."
The Ten Thousand Doors of January is the first in a series, and I can't wait to read where Harrow's imagination takes us next. In case you can't tell, I whole-heartedly recommend this novel and it would be a fun addition to a book club conversation. It could serve as a gentle and entertaining gateway book to fantasy reading. Let me know when you read it - I'd love to talk about it!
You can follow my reading challenge progress in the Challenge tab at the top of the page.
photos by Terrie Purkey (door in London, door in Rabat, Morocco, and Cozumel, Mexico)