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.
Then she finds 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 turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.
This book is lovely in so many different ways. I had high hopes going into it based on other people’s reviews, and I’m glad to say that I was not disappointed. I think it’s a story that will resonate with a broad audience because it’s just one of those books that evokes such wonder and magic while also dealing with some very grounded topics.
January is not an orphan, but she’s also sort of an orphan. She’s grown up in a big old mansion ward of a wealthy benefactor who likes to travel and collect rarities from around the world. Her father works for this man, Mr. Locke, and he’s often away from home. When he is around, he’s distant. January desperately wants a relationship with her father, but it seems something he’s incapable of giving to her. Despite being surrounded by wealth, she’s lonely and left with a sense of abandonment. Not only that, but January, being of darker complexion and standing out in the very white world in which she lives, is often made to feel out of place when she does venture out. She’s very much a girl trying desperately to figure out where she belongs, and being told the answer is ‘no where but this gilded cage’.
It’s hard not to empathize with January, lost and alone except for her faithful dog. Especially once she realizes that things are not what they seem and Locke may not be as benevolent as she’d always perceived. There is a growing sense of unease that things are not right. My one small quibble is that we, as the reader, catch on and become outraged much sooner than January, who seems a bit naive. But if you look at things from her perspective, when the only world you know and the only person that has ever shown you kindness is the thing that turns out to be false, you may be forgiven for your natural state of denial.
This is a story about portals, doors to other worlds. But I think it’s also about books and stories and how those can take you to other worlds as well. January finds a book which is about the adventures of a young woman who found doors to other worlds. The narrative switches back and forth between January’s story and the one she’s reading titled The Ten Thousand Doors. I love the story within a story element, especially once you realize that the story January has been reading all along is special–not just because it’s a true account, but for other reasons that are much closer to heart. The heroine of that book is quite something and I think I fell in love with her a bit and her determination to find a way back to a boy she’d met from another world. She had made a promise and was going to keep it, even if it took her her entire life and traveling through thousands of doorways, visiting worlds upon worlds.
January’s family, once you learn about them, are lovely but also kind of selfish. As a result, she was left alone in the world. On the one hand, it’s hard to forgive them. On the other hand, they’re just people, each with their own flaws. As someone who has a rocky relationship with their own parents, it’s hard to wanting to forgive, but when you also get to understand certain things from their perspective, it’s hard not to feel sorry for them as well. Damn you, empathy! (Just kidding, empathy is definitely a good thing!)
Besides portals presenting a large problem for our protagonist to solve, there are some real villains here as well. I will say they may be, perhaps, the weakest part of the book for me. All of them tend to be a little bit on the mustache twirly side. That being said, there is some truly terrifying moments in the book, things like how easy it was to get a young woman (especially a young woman of color) committed because ‘she’s hysterical’. I appreciated the history there, because if you look at history there are enough examples of these types of acts, and that makes them all the more frightening here when January goes through them.
I would say the strength of this book is its characters, except that it has such lovely prose. Harrow does a great job of pulling the reader into the book and making them part of the story. There are parts that were rendered so beautifully, I felt as if I was experiencing them myself–there is a part on a boat that comes immediately to mind. Come for the interesting concept, be charmed by the characters, and stay for the prose.
Ultimately, The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a book about love–parents and children, romantic love, friendships, pets, you name it. I think that’s why it feels so hopeful and reaches into so many reader’s hearts. 5/5 stars.