Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

the ten thousand doors of januaryThe Ten Thousand Doors of January
Alix E. Harrow

Orbit, 2019

This book is like if Strange the Dreamer and A Darker Shade of Magic got together and had a baby that was then fostered by Margaret Rogerson with occasional visits from Seanan McGuire. I know that’s a completely nonsensical and likely very overwrought metaphor, but there you go.

I don’t quite know what I expected from The Ten Thousand Doors of January – I do know that I was initially very hesitant to read it, and that it was only the hype surrounding it that finally convinced me to pick it up. The summary is quite vague, so I wasn’t quite sure where the book was heading, and it’s certainly in no hurry to tell you. This is a very, very slow-paced book, to the point where I struggled with the pacing at several intervals, and it’s not really so much about adventure and portals and different worlds as it is a coming-of-age story about a lost young girl.

Though beautifully written, The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a very, very quiet novel that isn’t in any particular rush to do anything with itself at all. Instead it revels in languorously introducing its world and its heroine and her backstory. That said, however, there is still something indescribably compelling about it – perhaps the narrative frame, which is that of January writing her story for someone to read at a later time – that makes it a nice, cozy read to let yourself sink into, like an old friend.

There is such a love of books and stories interwoven into this text, not just in January’s own tale, but in the tale she begins reading, for The Ten Thousand Doors of January is, in some ways, a story within a story, or rather, two stories running parallel to one another, eventually coming to fit together in a pleasantly satisfying way. There is also a constant running commentary on race and racism, classism, and the inherent privilege of rich white men who think they ought to control the world. January herself is perceived as mixed-race, and so deals with all the struggles that come with that in the early 20th century. I admired the balance of fantasy and reality in the text.

I really wish I could give partial stars, because this is a 3.5 for sure, because it’s beautiful and admirable and a really incredible feat of storytelling, but I just couldn’t jive with the pacing at all, and I did struggle to keep reading at several parts.

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