The Ten Thousand Doors of January
“There’s only one way to run away from your own story, and that’s to sneak into someone else’s.” ― Alix E. Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January(2019) took me along on a marvellous adventure written in a language so rich and flowery it gave life to every corner of each world I travelled through. I want to believe this story is real. I hope deep down that is.
This novel is not one that I would look over the back cover of and then choose for myself to read, it was a gift, and I must admit it sat on my bedside table with a red ribbon around it for quite a while before I opened it. Having said that, I am glad I read it this summer since it turned out to be a perfect adventure for sunny days stretched out on the lawn. That is the thing with gifted books, they open you up to story worlds you will love, but in your own stupid mind you would discard without ever giving them a chance.
In The Ten Thousand Doors of January, we follow the title character January Scaller at the beginning of the 20th-century in America. January lives at Locke house under the watchful eye of her guardian Cornelius Locke. Her father, a dark-skinned man with many tattoos named Julian, works for Mr Locke and The Archeological Society as a collector of artefacts from around the world. This makes Julian absent for long periods of time, leaving January alone in a mansion filled with curiosities. January is raised to be a good and proper girl, constantly feeling as if her presence is conditional on her obedience and ability to follow the many unspoken rules set up for her. When January is just a little girl, she finds a blue door out in a field and is taken by the salty breeze and unfamiliar smells on the other side. Mr Locke convinces her that the door isn’t real. A few years later, as she is just about to turn seventeen, she finds a book when she is exploring the many artefacts of the collections stored at Locke house. At the same time, she is reached by the news that her father has gone missing and is presumed dead. With help from the book, she quickly realises that things are not as they seem, and she needs to escape The Archeological Society and the house that is the only place she ever knew as home. Together with her two friends Jane and Samuel, and beloved dog Bad, January goes on an adventure through doors that take her to worlds far beyond her wildest imagination.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a portal based fantasy story that explores many interesting themes such as the power of words, racism and a woman’s role throughout history. Alix E. Harrow cleverly examines past and present social structures and poses questions to the reader along the way.
An example is how January doesn’t fit into the classifications of either black or white, which perplexes those she encounters as they can’t place her and know not how to value her in terms of social standing.
“People are always uncertain about me: my skin is sort of coppery-red, as if it’s covered all over with cedar sawdust, but my eyes are round and light and my clothes are expensive. Was I a pampered pet or a serving girl? Should the poor manager serve me tea or toss me in the kitchens with the maids? I was what Mr. Locke called ‘an in-between sort of thing.'”
Much of January’s personality is her being in contrast to other things, whether it be her skin tone, her financial situation, family circumstances or growing up as a girl in a man’s world. It is only once she frees herself from societal expectations and breaks the rules that she finds that she has a voice and starts to explore her power.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a very kind adventure that I would recommend to teenagers and adults alike. I have enjoyed this novel that gives but doesn’t take in the sense that it is very relaxing to immerse oneself into the plot – a vacations mood type of read.
Alix E. Harrow(b.1989) is a Historian and American writer based in Kentucky. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is her first novel and has been nominated for multiple awards, including the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and World Fantasy Award for best novel.