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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official author website
Order The Ten Thousand Doors of January over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alix E. Harrow has been a student and a teacher, a farm-worker and a cashier, an ice-cream-scooper and a 9-to-5 office-dweller. She's lived in tents and cars, cramped city apartments and lonely cabins, and spent a summer in a really sweet '79 VW Vanagon. She has library cards in at least five states.

Now she's a full-time writer living in with her husband and two semi-feral kids in Kentucky.

OFFICIAL BLURB: In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

FORMAT/INFO: Ten Thousand Doors of January is 385 pages long divided over 13 numbered chapters with an epilogue. The book was released on September 5, 2019 by Redhook (an imprint of Orbit) in hardback and ebook formats. The cover design is by Lisa Marie Pompilio.


Those of you who are more than casually familiar with books—those of you who spend your free afternoons in fusty bookshops, who offer furtive, kindly strokes along the spines of familiar titles—understand that page-riffling is an essential element in the process of introducing oneself to a new book. 

I pride myself on being a stoic person who rarely shows emotions, but after finishing Ten Thousand Doors of January I may have shed a single tear. No, let’s make it a half of a single tear. And it was probably just an allergic reaction to pollen but the fact stands

It also gave me a book hangover, a mythical state I’ve heard about but never experienced myself. Harrow’s prose is so vivid that anything I try to start seems so bland that I just can’t get into it. And I’m the reader who reads the way some people watch tv or read newspapers - I just sit, do it and enjoy myself.

Harrow’s debut, set at the turn of the 20th century, follows January Scaller, a mixed-race girl with unique talents. Her father travels the worlds (yep, plural) in search of valuable artifacts that will please his wealthy employer, William Cornelius Locke, an important member of the Society, a secretive association of the powerful, including 
an old man in Volgograd who kept his heart in a little velvet box; a wealthy heiress in Sweden; a fellow in the Philippines who transformed into a great black boar; a handful of princes and a dozen members of Congress; a white-skinned creature in Rumania who fed on human warmth.
January spends most of her time reading books and dreaming of adventures. When she discovers that the words she writes open Doors to other worlds, she sets off on a journey to find her seemingly disappeared father. With the help of her allies (a faithful dog, the grocer’s son, and Kenyan woman) she may be able to succeed, not an easy task when you’re followed by interdimensional beings with a loose understanding of notions of good and evil.

I’m not big on portal fantasy but the premise, while not really unique, hooked me. I have a soft spot for young women with agenda struggling against prejudices of the society of their era. Thanks to Harrow’s narration I felt fully engaged by the ideas explored in the book, in love with the prose and characters, and in awe of her craft. Ten Thousand Doors of January is a marvel of storytelling, balancing humor, horror, action, and charm. January is earnestly good, probably in a way that has fallen out of fashion but that I loved reading. She cares for people and has both courage and a moral compass she follows. 

Harrow excels at catching the magic of the moments in elegant, often lyrical sentences. Scene after scene she'll pull at your heartstrings. It's a book you can read just for the pleasure of reading wonderful prose. It is not only written beautifully but tells a beautiful (though sometimes painful) story as well. I expect most readers will find at least a few scenes that will awe them. As a dog person, I absolutely loved the one in which January meets her best friend and companion, Bad. Bad is a dog. He's actually named Sindbad, but once you get to know him, you’ll admit that Bad is an appropriate abbreviation. 

Harrow is never entirely predictable, and the book moves cleverly forward through its unexpected twists. The use of portals allows her much leeway - she can shape worlds to her needs - but everything does have a purpose and it all comes together neatly in the end

Ten Thousand Doors of January is a special book: immersive and genuinely moving. The ending is fully satisfying. It gives a possibility of a sequel but doesn't require it if Harrow wants to focus on other stories. No matter what she writes next, I’ll buy it and read it as soon as it’s published.


Swiff said...

Agreed that after one short story ("A Witch's Guide") and this novel, Alix has earned herself a first-day instabuy for everything she's going to publish from here on out.

I also got misty-eyed, but I think it was because I had some dirt inside my contact lenses. For like, three days in a row. Damn dirt.

Łukasz said...

Yes, the air these days...dirt and pollen are everywhere.

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