The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (Sharade’s review)

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.

The problem with reviewing a highly anticipated book is that you feel like everything has been said already. All the ahhs have been ahhed, all the wows have been wowed. I can only add my voice to the admiration chorus, because unsurprisingly, The Ten Thousand Doors of January broke my heart and ran away with the pieces.

What is it about? I won’t fall in the obvious trap of repeating the above blurb. I’ll try to be succinct: it’s a coming-of-age adventure tale of a young girl who’s fleeing villains and trying to understand her past, alongside faithful friends and sidekicks. It’s about doors and how to open them and what’s behind them, it’s about magic lost and childhood remembered.

If it feels familiar, it’s because Harrow not so much gives a nod to classical adventure fantasy stories as she elegantly curtsies to them. It almost reads as an homage to the subgenre – but in a genuine way, not a pastiche, meta version. Tropes aren’t subverted, or turned upside down, or heavens forbid, twisted. They are embraced in this book, with the care and nostalgia of someone who obviously grew up reading and loving them.

But of course, these tropes go through quite the dusting. The true villain, in a thematic way, is colonialism – its malicious greed for the things it wants, its careless destruction of the things it doesn’t. It wants to present itself as progress but the rot can’t be hidden. Yes, I know, presenting the Major Theme of the Story in a review is very high-school-book-report-y, but in The Ten Thousand Doors of January, it’s bold and gloriously angry, and I loved every minute of it.

And if casting colonialism as the ultimate evil wasn’t enough to get me hooked (it was enough, by the way), I could count on the lovely, heartbreaking love story – or rather, stories. Honestly, with her prose, Harrow could write the story of a plastic bag drifting through the wind in an empty parking lot and I’d be entranced. Romance? Forget it, it’s almost cheating. Using a story-within-the-story device to wreck us on two different levels, the book lifts the veil on the mysteries and magic of the world, and what love can do and can sustain.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a passionate love story to, well, stories. To adventures and childhood make-believe. To love and friendship and family. To doors that lead to interesting and scary places, and to the bravery that’s needed to cross the thresholds. It’s a glorious, as-subtle-as-a-bulldozer fuck you to colonialism. It’s amazing. Read it.

Thanks to Orbit for the review copy. And for publishing this book.

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