The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – fantasy in an historical context
This book suggests several different things about the world, or worlds. There are doors, or Doors, to be found. The written word has power in the hands of certain people. A young woman is an unusual guest of a wealthy man, another young woman cannot live completely within her family. The subtitle of the book “Every Story opens a Door” gives a valuable clue to the way the leading character January copes, even escapes, from the difficulties of her life. This partial fantasy novel is a powerful comment on the world in which roles are assigned to those of a different race, and how women are treated, especially those who do not fit the mould. January is a young woman who has grown up in the household of Mr Locke, wealthy and a member of a mysterious Society. Her behaviour sometimes causes upset, and she seeks escape, especially in the face of trauma. A memorable dog is a significant character, as January tries to discover those she can trust. Another young woman, Ade, wants to escape from the sheltered life of her female relatives, but the tiny moment of revelation she discovers is soon over. There is a scholarly theme that runs through the book as the geography of the world is seen in a new light, with mysterious Doors in many places. The written word becomes vital as this many stranded story develops in its complexity. This can be a vivid, sometimes violent seeming book, but essentially it is a story of courage, strength and a search for truth. An unusual book, I was fascinated by its narrative and pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.
The book opens with January’s memory of being seven and discovering a Door. On a foreign trip the lively little girl runs off from a hotel and discovers a Door into a different world, or does she? She has one “non-fictional” friend, Samuel, the grocer’s son, who supplies her with novels and adventure stories, and she must contend with her strict homelife until she is sent a friend by her absent father. She discovers a book which postulates the possibility of different worlds which can be accessed through mysterious doors. There is a story which features a young woman who spends her life trying to find them. When a party for the mysterious Society meets amid a traumatic time for January, she makes a decision which puts the rest of her life and her closest allies in peril.
This book has elements of fantasy and even supernatural beings, as people’s motives and actions are seen in complex ways. The heroine, January, is an “unusual” girl who will never quite fit in, which she admits to herself from early on. Proceeding at a fast pace, some of the episodes are thrilling and a little confusing, but the reader has to explore the narrative along with January as she comes to terms with her situation. I found this an immensely readable book, with an impressive central logic amidst a deep story of many layers. This book can be enjoyed by many people, as both adults and young people would find much to challenge and entertain. I recommend this book to those who enjoy fantasy based in a world like ours, a historical context not hidebound by many inconvenient facts. A splendid and special book, it is an unusual read with female characters in the forefront.