Poetic, fantasy forward portal type science fiction.
Plot: January’s father is a travelling archeologist, working with the financial backing of the wealthy Mr. Locke. Indeed, his generosity extends to taking January on as a ward while her father travels the world. Unfortunately, growing up a mixed-race girl in the house of a wealthy white man with no parenting skills is a mixed bag. January grows up a deeply isolated girl, surrounded by myths of portals to other worlds. Only it turns out they aren’t myths, and that learning to find and navigate them would be essential to her survival. Shenanigans ensue.
It’s hard to write a teaser for a book like this. The story moves slowly, so even setting the groundwork feels like spoiling aspects of the story, but my general approach of “this is how the book starts” felt like it would effectively misrepresent what you’re getting. And what you’re getting is a beautifully written story about the myriad kinds of loneliness there are, ways in which different people respond to loneliness, and that at the end of the day the only cure is to risk your heart by exposing it to someone. That doing this is a risk that may not always pay off, but that closing yourself off makes you lonely in more than one way, it makes you smaller all around.
It is important to note that this story sprawls decades and the lives of a half a dozen people over several different worlds, so you really only get glimpses into the lives of the characters before we move on. This book is less about narrative and more about a vibe. Think of old bookstores and musky libraries and dusty bazaars. If you want to immerse yourself in that kind of vibe, then this book is likely going to resonate. If you’re hoping for a bunch of world hopping, you’re going to be disappointed. We generally stay firmly rooted right in this world. It’s is written like a fable written by an academic, and the juxtaposition of the two methods works well enough that it made me laugh on several occasions. It gave me 3000 Years of Longing vibes.
That said, we have some trigger warnings: there is a dog and he is wonderful and he gets badly hurt, multiple times. There is parental death and abandonment. There is the forcible hospitalization of a person in a prison-like mental institution. There are racial slurs and general racism (this is depicted as a bad thing, but it may nevertheless be difficult for some readers with such lived experiences).