The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a beautiful, well thought out book with stories inside of stories inside of stories. Or books inside of books if you will. Anytime you start layering reading with reading you're pretty much guaranteed to get my attention. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a beautifully written read. From a heart breaking love story, to new worlds to be discovered to the mystery of doors and even a puppy (named Bad); I can imagine revisiting this story again and again in the future and loving it just as well.
Our lead girl, January, is an intriguing child. She's a bookworm who is the ward of a rich and powerful man obsessed with collecting unique things. Her father goes on 'errands' for him and brings back amazing wonders from around the worlds (yes plural) that many doors scattered across Earth take him to. I think January is a very well put together character and she felt very real as the story progressed. In fact around 75% I found my mind wandering and getting a bit bored; then I realized it's because that is how January was feeling! It's an impressive feat when I literally feel like the character in the story without realizing it immediately. That is a sign of a heroine that I connected with in a profound way.
Doors to Doors to Doors
If there was one thing I wanted more of it was doors! We certainly don't encounter ten thousand of them; although there are quite a few. For me any time there is an opportunity to set-up a new world or version of an existing one I'm intrigued and want the ideas to be endless. This endless number of worlds/doors reminded me of Seanan McGuire's Every Heart a Doorway in that it could continue into infinity. And while many people will see similarities in McGuire's story to that of Alix E. Harrow I think they are both very different books. Ten Thousand Doors is more of a character study while McGuire is far more about the setting and worlds. Harrow does a good job of setting up 'rules' for the doors and keeping strictly to them. Magic without rules is just lazy writing and so I appreciated that it was obvious from the beginning what the constraints are that allow these portals to open.
Action and Adventure
If you're hoping for some flashy sword work, great escapes or vast adventures then Ten Thousand Doors is not for you. Harrow has given us the perfect book for an introvert if you will. As January is an introvert herself she doesn't really push the limits like many other heroines. There are lots of things that happen and some very tense moments but no real fighting or 'action' the way a lot of fantasy is. I personally feel this made Harrow's story stand-out from the crowd for me in a way most fantasy doesn't. It may also be that the stunning prose gives a certain pace and feel to the book that exude a quieter experience than a lot of fantasy books these days.
There are some very unique and heart breaking relationships that January either finds herself in or is privy to throughout the story. There is quite a bit of romance without it ever feeling over the top or sappy. I liked the slow methodical set-up of all the relationships whether between parents, January and her father, January and her friend, etc.
The most intricate of these pairings is by far between January and her master Locke. It's a love/hate, hate/love relationship and we are strung along with January as she desperately wishes the man loved her or had some sort of affection to show for her. It's apparent from the get go that this is a man who collects 'things'and January is merely one of them due to her unique look. I found myself often asking if it would be better for her to be a kitchen worker than to be a 'doll' shown off. Although it seems cruel at times the freedom January gets because of her unique position with Locke plays a large part in how she finds her first door. So all's well that ends well.
I have a hateful relationship with most endings. Easily the most likely thing to annoy me in any book is the ending. Often they are cheap, contrived, convenient or cliche. (ohhh, that's some good alliteration there, totally by accident, lol) The exact opposite is true with Harrow's ending to Ten Thousand Doors. It just felt perfect. All the ends are elegantly tied up, it's not happy but not really sad. It just is. Very much like life's endings which is probably why I liked it so much. It felt real.
The icing on the cake? This is a stand-alone fantasy book. While you may mourn that there isn't a series here by the end merely because you wish for more; I am very pleased to have read a wonderful fantasy story that won't take half my life or more to get to a satisfying ending. As Harrow tells us early on; "Doors, once closed, do not reopen."
I can't really imagine another hating this book. Disliking it, perhaps; not really getting into it, sure. But actually thinking it's awful? I'm sure there will be people but it seems unlikely to be often. This is easily a book in my top recommendations for 2019. Lovers of YA/Teen, fantasy, fiction and even probably sci-fi are all likely to find something to love in The Ten Thousand Doors of January. I'll leave you with just one of many beautiful lines from this masterpiece:
"May she wander but always return home, may all her words be written true, may every door lie open before her."
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
Follow me on Goodreads