Book: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Genre: Historical novel + portal fantasy
Publication date: 2019
Source: ebook borrowed from the library
Summary: January Scaller endures a privileged, but stifled, childhood in the first decade of the 20th century. She lives in a grand, overly stuffed house in Vermont under the guardianship of Mr. Locke, a collector of oddities and antiquities. Her father travels around the world in Mr. Locke’s employ and mourns the loss of her mother.
Mr. Locke describes January as “oddly-colored,” distinguishing her from the “colored” of that time period — a distinction that tends to disappear when January isn’t accompanied by Mr. Locke.
As a young child, January encounters a door that leads to another world, but Mr. Locke disturbs her adventure and disabuses her of such fanciful notions. That works, more or less, until ten years later when January discovers a book called The Ten Thousand Doors about doors, just like she found, leading to all manner of worlds.
Thoughts: The narrative voice was the first thing that delighted me about The Ten Thousand Doors of January. Here are the first few lines so that you can see if you’re entranced as quickly as I was:
The Blue Door
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 a 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.
Almost immediately, that narrative voice takes us on an adventure through a historic landscape that also turns out to have fantastical elements.
I loved the mildly subversive elements in this book. Considered from the perspective of other worlds, white supremacy and wealth inequality look not only evil, but ridiculous.
Appeal: The Ten Thousand Doors of January seems to have been marketed as an adult book. But January is 17 for most of the plot. Many high school students would love to follow her adventures. Both younger and older readers will appreciate the imaginative world-building, the history, and the beautiful prose.
Challenge: I enjoyed the historical train rides, costumes, and interior designs from the first dozen years of the 20th century. I haven’t read very many books with that historical setting. I think other participants of the The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge may also enjoy The Ten Thousand Doors of January.
Have you read this book? What did you think?