I usually read all of the Nebula and Hugo award nominees unless it’s totally obvious from the synopsis I won’t like the story. That doesn’t happen very often (and sometimes I’m wrong–last year I thought I wouldn’t like Gideon the Ninth and it ended up being my favorite book of 2019). As a result, Ten Thousand Doors of January has been waiting patiently on my Nook for a couple of months. I got it after it was nominated for one of the biggies, but I was reading a couple other books and listening to the Lindsay Buroker series Death Before Dragons about an assassin who teams up with a dragon who can shape shift into human form. I kinda forgot about this book until I was catching up on the Sword and Laser podcast and Veronica mentioned how much she loved the Ten Thousand Doors. I seem to like most of the books she likes, so I decided to return to the story. I’m so glad I did.
This is a portal fantasy, and I really love me a good portal fantasy. I grew up on the Chronicles of Narnia and constantly tried to find doors to Narnia in closets and other dark corners. Unfortunately, I never found one. To this day, I wish there were portals to other worlds. This book explores the concept of doors linking our world to ten thousand other worlds, but the doors are hard to find–and can be destroyed. In this story, one way to find doors is to pay attention to stories. If there are stories of unusual people or animals, stories of people disappearing then reappearing, or other unusual events, a door and the connected world is likely a source of the story. Doors, and their connection to different worlds, cultures, and people, keep every world vibrant and alive. I love that idea so very much. Other worlds can be quite different from ours, with their own special types of magic.
The book starts out in the early 1900s with the main character January Scaller. She’s only seven years old and is living with a wealthy patron named Mr. Locke. Her father works for Mr. Locke as a globetrotting archaeologist (or really, tomb raider/thief). January’s relationship with both Mr. Lock and her father are key elements of this story, as is January’s evolving relationship with herself.
Timely elements of this book are race and class. The early 1900s were the era of the Robber Barons, a real era in our history featuring exceptionally rich men who were engaged in building personal empires and expanding empires of countries at the expense of the people who lived and worked during the era. January’s father is black and January herself is mixed race with dark skin. How Mr. Locke and other people in society react to January, and to other characters, is an important part of the story. How the wealthy take advantage of the less fortunate is also a part of the tale.
When she’s seven, she find a door. She goes through it and finds a difference world with a windswept sea, but hears Mr. Locke calling her and returns to our world. She never forgets that door, and keeps a memento of it with her for years. When she’s 17, she finds a book hidden away in one of the archaeological pieces her father sent to Mr. Locke, a book called the Ten Thousand Doors. The book is the story of a young woman named Adelaide Lawson who also found a door as a young woman. She spends many years searching the world for doors to a certain place and a certain person.
The interwoven stories of January and Adelaide are the heart of the book. January learns many things from Adelaide’s story that help her to change her own story and take control of her life. The different threads of this book come together beautifully and create a story that is beautiful and hard to put down.
The story in this book is addictive, and the writing is gorgeous. Alix Harrow uses rich and descriptive language and I found myself enjoying certain sentences and phrases as I read the book. The book has elements that really make you think, but the story ends on a positive note and had an extremely satisfying conclusion. This is one of my favorite books this year and I bet I’ll find myself looking for doors in unusual places.
Highly Recommended, especially in the depressing age of COVID-19.