The Ten Thousand Doors of January
by Alix E. Harrow
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted November 2, 2019
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The Ten Thousand Doors of January is the first e-book I got through my newly renewed library card and Cloud Library. It came out in September, has been getting rave reviews, none of which I've read other than a headline or the opening sentences. I didn't know exactly what to expect, other than it is a portal fantasy, similar in concept, but not execution, to her recent Hugo-winning short story A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies. It continually surprised me, and I join others in giving it an unrestrained recommendation.
The primary setting is Vermont in the first decade of the 20th Century. January Scaller lives in the home of Cornelius Locke, a wealthy man who directs many others to scour the globe looking for artifacts to add to his vast collection. January's father, Julian, is one of his agents. The first thing I was wrong about is that January Scaller does not travel through ten thousand doors into alternate worlds. Ten Thousand Doors is a book she is gifted, although since it is old and worn the title on the leather cover is reduced to "Ten Thous oors." She doesn't know who to thank for it. Was it her frequently absent father, or her guardian? If it was either of them, why didn't they just hand it to her directly, or wrapped it in colorful paper as a present rightfully should be? Why was it left to discover in an old chest, in which she had previously found other artifacts and trinkets? At first she thinks it is fiction, similar to other favorite stories like the Oz adventures. But the further she reads into it she comes to the realization it was written specifically for her.
I'm not going to say much more about the plot, other than the fact it was unpredictable. January was practically an orphan, motherless and mostly fatherless. He rarely spent more than a couple of days at Locke House between his assignments. She is well educated, and relatively well traveled, since Mr. Locke took her on several trips, both across America and abroad, but she was continually denied the opportunity to accompany her father. Otherwise her life was restricted, not the least reason being she is of mixed race and dark skin, although not as dark as her father. If not for the benevolence of Mr. Locke they likely would not have fared well on their own. As she learns about the doors to other worlds, she also becomes aware of the forces trying to profit off them, or else close them off from use by anyone else. Whom can she trust? With whom must she fight in order to find the door to her true home? One of the other things she had found in that chest was a blank journal, in which she wrote of her thoughts and dreams. This novel is a combination of her story, and the story of the author of Ten Thousand Doors. That number is not specific, but reflective of a world in which that was the largest number the people could conceive, essentially meaning infinity. Both stories are exciting, but also fraught with peril, pain, and heartache. The final pages of January's story brings hope for a brighter future, but there are likely still risks. Even so, I'd like to go through those doors with her and see the wonders beyond. You should too.
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