Sunday, 2 August 2020

#CBR12 Book 53: "The Ten Thousand Doors of January" by Alix B. Harrow

Page count: 385 pages
Audio book length: 12 hrs 20 mins
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR12 Bingo: Debut

Official book description:
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 artefacts 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.

Little January Scaller is fully aware that even though she gets to wear fancy dresses and take trips to foreign locations with the rich Mr. Locke, her father's employer, she doesn't really belong in his big, sprawling mansion in Vermont. He's an old, white man, she's a little girl with dark hair and skin a brownish coppery hue. Her mother is dead and her father travels the world, risking his life and acquiring exotic treasures for Mr. Locke's collection, but is hardly ever back long enough to spend any time with his little girl. The only friend January has is the grocer's boy, Samuel Zappia, who sneaks her adventure stories to read and who she manages to get away to play with on weekends. But as Mr. Locke's ward, January is expected to behave well, and not "consort with the help". 

While on a journey with Mr. Locke to sell some artifacts, January finds a strange door in a field and manages to open it by writing about it in her journal. The door opens to a beautiful seaside village somewhere obviously different, and January finds a foreign coin, before Mr. Locke discovers her and burns both the door and her journal. He hires a strict governess to take care of January and admonishes her that she needs to stop being so wild and start behaving properly. When she's seventeen, January finds a strange book called "The Ten Thousand Doors" and the book makes her realise that she didn't imagine the incident with the strange door when she was younger, and there's a lot more mystery and adventure in the world than she imagined.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a remarkable debut that has been nominated for pretty much all the major genre awards (the Nebula, the Locus, the Hugo, the World Fantasy Award) and while it's a bit slow to start, it tells a story of travel and adventure, portals to other worlds, friendships, love, but also dark forces with the wish to colonise, subjugate and control, taking riches and resources to enjoy as your own. I enjoyed the book a lot, but with every piece of foreshadowing, I found that I had figured out where the story was going long before the actual reveal. There were very few real surprises for me over the course of the novel. Considering the book is about portal doors between our world and various exciting fantasy worlds, I wish we'd gotten to explore and see more of the various other worlds than we did. Some of the supporting characters, like Samuel and Helen, January's loyal friends and helpers, could also have gotten a bit more characterisation. 

Still, it's a good read with an interesting message about family and belonging, as well as condemning colonisation and the appropriation and subjugation of foreign cultures to gain wealth and riches. I liked it a lot, but I didn't love it. I'm nevertheless very interested in seeing what Alix B. Harrow writes next.

Judging a book by its cover: I'm not entirely sure what I think of this cover, it gives you very little idea what the book is about or what you might expect to meet between its pages. There's a number of colourful flowers, with elaborate keys hanging from them, and what appears to be a keyhole, or maybe a portal doorway. Considering most of the Doors in the book don't require keys of any kind, I'm not entirely sure what the cover designers were going for. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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