Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January - Alix E. Harrow
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Published: Orbit, September 2019
My rating: 3/5 stars
“How fitting, that the most terrifying time in my life should require me to do what I do best: escape into a book.”
I’ve been looking forward to read this ever since its release, so for that reason 3 stars was a bit of a disappointment. Before anyone tries to burn me at the stake for heresy, I want to say that I agree with the majority that this was an enjoyable and beautifully written novel. It’s one of those “it’s not you, it’s me cases” where I can still recommend a book even though I didn’t love it at the time myself.
Our story is set in the early 20th century and follows 17-year old January, who lives with her wealthy care taker Locke, whilst her father travels the world under his employment. When word one day reaches January that her father has passed away on his travels, she tries to escape her grief by burying herself in a book. She soon finds that the book in question, The Ten Thousand Doors, has the power to literally transport her to different places. What follows is part portal fantasy, part mystery and part family saga.
I struggled a lot with the first half of this novel, as I just couldn’t get into the story, nor did I care particularly for any of the characters. The second half of the book definitely saved it a bit, but even here it never got above the “just fine” level for me. Nothing too surprising happened and overall I felt like the story steadily meandered from beginning to end, without many change in pace or (emotional) excitement. The characters and their dynamics were interesting enough, but didn’t quite have the depth I was hoping for, and the changes in narrative between chapters were sometimes a bit jarring to me. All in all, this was very much “just fine”, rather than great, hence 3 stars .
I do want to mention for context (even just for myself when I read this review back at a later time), I read this book during a very tumultuous week, and my head wasn’t in the game all the time. With a lot of scary news about America politics and the ramping up thread of the corona virus (again!) occupying my mind, it was hard to get lost in a book the way this story wants you to. With a different context, this might have a better experience.