The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alex E. Harrow was on NPR’s Best Books of 2019 List, but despite my avid perusal of that list every year, it didn’t catch my attention. I’m not a big fantasy reader, and there are so many books on that list it’s inevitable that I’m going to miss out on some. However, my book club chose Ten Thousand Doors to read. Honestly, I was dreading it. One book club friend is a big fantasy reader, and she’s made me read so many dreadful (to me) Hugo and Nebula award finalists that I now have immediate, negative connotations with those awards. Fortunately (and surprisingly) I enjoyed reading this one. The story was well written and I liked the characters.
This book begins with alternating chapters of different stories. We first meet January Scaller when she is a young girl. She lives with a wealthy benefactor, Mr. Locke, in his Vermont mansion. Her father is employed by Mr. Locke to travel the world searching for relics and treasures to bring back to Locke Mansion. When she is seven and on a trip with Mr. Locke, January opens a door to another world. She never forgets it, even as Mr. Locke presses her into acting like a responsible young lady.
One day, January discovers a book in a chest in Mr. Locke’s house. That book begins with the story of Adelaide Lee Larson. She is a young, wild woman growing up in a run-down house full of aunts after her father walked off and her mother died. One day, Ade meets a boy in the grass behind her house. He has come through a doorway from another world. He is obviously foreign, but he knows English and they connect. They plan to meet again in three days. But when Ade comes back on the third day, the door has been destroyed, and there is no way to find him.
Ade takes off on a journey to discover more doors and find her way to him. The boy, Yule Ian, spends his life studying doors, also looking for a way to find Adelaide again. While we are learning all this, January is growing up. She learns more about her family, her powers, and Mr. Locke, which forces her into action and grow into herself.
This book took a little while to get into as I figured out how the characters fit together and how the world worked. I was also sometimes frustrated by January’s actions, which kept getting her in trouble. On the whole, however, I really enjoyed this book. It isn’t the type of thing I normally read, but I appreciated its resonance and how it is tied to history. I liked the yearning for more that it instilled in me. This book is chock full of similes and metaphors. It’s something that might come across as flowery and overdone, but they were all so perfectly placed that they really added to Harrow’s descriptions of her characters and their feelings. I was impressed. Recommended.
“His expression as he surveyed me made me think of old-timey illustrations of God: severely paternal.” (17)
“Thus Adelaide Lee was born of poor luck and poverty and raised by ignorance and solitude.” (57)
“If behind every good girl lurked a good threat.” (119)
“But to Yule both paths were unspeakably bleak. Both of them would necessitate a narrowing of his boundless horizons, an end to his dreaming.” (141)
“Yule was stuffed with the kind of unblemished confidence that belongs only to the very young, who have never truly known the bitterness of failure, or felt the years of their lives trickling away from them like water from cupped palms.” (146)
“Because the place you are born isn’t necessarily the place you belong.” (245)
You can find all my reviews on my blog.