The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow
Published: September 2019
Genre: historical fantasy
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.
It feels like a lifetime ago I read this book and it left me speechless. Nearly six months later and I’m just now finding the time to sit down and write about it…
The premise alone intrigued me. Stories that have artifacts, books, papers, letters, and this dusty, quiet, academic quality to it will always capture my attention. Stories within stories are fascinating. I went into this novel expecting one thing, and quickly learned it was entirely something else.
January, as a mixed-race young woman in the early 1900s New England, is treated like an object to be examined, “treasured,” and hidden away. While Mr. Locke appears to be benevolent, it is because of his thirst to acquire artifacts from across the globe (and beyond)––in true rich, old, white man fashion––that January is unable to be with her father, a Black man who speaks thoughtfully and has beautiful tattoos across his arms. January wants nothing more than to be loved by her stranger of a father, and his departures become more difficult to bear.
She finds solace in a mysterious book of stories. It smells like the sea, and it reminds her of a Door she discovered as a child in the middle of a field. This book feels like a friend, for in it the narrator shares they too know of these Doors to other places. She feels a deep connection to the narrator, and she can’t quite put her finger on why.
This book opens January’s eyes to the life she could have had, to a life elsewhere, to the truth of her father’s departures and Mr. Locke’s nature. This book shapes January’s identity in such beautiful and heartbreaking ways. As each piece of the puzzle fell into place via these interconnected stories within the book, so too did the puzzles of January’s remarkable life. I was swept up in each tale, in January’s voice, in the melancholy of oppression and separation, in the deep joy of love and family, in the hunger for storytelling and knowledge. Months have passed and I’m still haunted by this stunning narrative.
Ten Thousand is about nostalgia and hope. It’s about the magic of words and stories, love and friendship. It’s about power, obsession, and corruption. It’s about rebuilding and pushing forward. It’s about sacrifice. It’s everything I could want in a historical gothic portal fantasy.
This qualifies for my TBR & genre challenge!