I’m joining the blog tour today and sharing my review of The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow: published in hardback and as an ebook on 12th September by Orbit Books, paperback readers will have to wait until May 2020. My thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided through netgalley).
If you’ve spent any time browsing book blogs in recent weeks, this book – and its glorious cover – has been difficult to escape. I’ve rarely read so many enthusiastic reviews, with many crowning it as their book of the year – so I’ll admit I was rather looking forward to it. I was attracted by the historical content, but there are good reasons why I generally avoid fantasy, and the comparisons I noticed did rather worry me – I really didn’t enjoy The Night Circus, and The Thirteenth Tale was distinguished by Diane Setterfield’s magnificent writing. Could this book really compare?
EVERY STORY OPENS A DOOR
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.
But her quiet existence is shattered when she stumbles across 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 reveals more impossible truths about the world, and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.
I’ll admit that I was rather torn by this one. The comparison that came immediately to mind as I began to read was The Shadow of the Wind – and if I add the fact that Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s book is on my all-time favourites list, that gave it a particularly high benchmark to live up to.
At the beginning I was mesmerised – I really loved the whole feel of the book, the well-described quirky characters, and January’s clear and engaging voice and personality. I loved it until a third of the way in – the whole concept of the doors, the other lives, the way January’s life continued in the present with its many twists and turns, and the clever device introduced to frame the story.
The author’s style is compelling: the way she captures January’s day-to-day life with its edge of the strange and fantastical is superb, and I was immensely impressed by the sustained clarity of her voice. I also enjoyed the vivid and detailed descriptions creating January’s world – particularly Mr Locke’s home filled with curiosities – and the way her character grew and matured, facing the challenges with which she’s presented and the lessons learned along the way. And the book’s whole structure is highly original and very well-handled – I’m in awe at the author’s imagination and creativity.
But I’m sorry, my personal enchantment didn’t continue – the repeated departures from life’s reality left me behind, and that has far more to do with my own reading preferences than the book itself. While I can happily give it four stars in all the places that matter, I can only apologise that it was a book I just couldn’t love – but I do hope that the reviews of others might convince you to try it.
About the author
Alix E. Harrow is an ex-historian with lots of opinions and excessive library fines, currently living in Kentucky with her husband and their semi-feral children. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is her debut novel.