She writes a door of blood and silver. The door opens just for her.
This book ripped me apart and wrote me back together again. Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel is truly a work of art. I laughed, I cried, and I sat on the edge of my seat in suspense. January’s voice comes through each and every word – first like a gentle rain when her life is filled with upper class stability, and later like a typhoon when she must break away from the chains and preconceived notions holding her back. She wants so badly to be free, but can’t quite tear away without a push.
January Scaller is a young girl growing up in the early 1900s. She’s leashed and tamed by a man who thinks of her as just another curio in his collection – but when her father goes missing, she’s forced to confront both her abilities and her past. This is a coming of age novel, a novel about exploring both this world and others, and a novel about lost souls seeking one another out through the ten thousand Doors between worlds.
While the time period is certainly reflected in the prose, do not make the mistake of assuming this book will feel dense or dated. The era floats alongside each passage, gently flavouring the book as a whole. The fourth wall is frequently peeked behind, as January comments on the shapes of letters and what they might be used to communicate. The opening page is one of the best I’ve read:
When I was seven, I found a door. I suspect I should capitalize that word, so you understand I’m not talking about your garden- or common-variety door that leads reliably to a white-tiled kitchen or a bedroom closet.
When I was seven, I found a Door. There – look how tall and proud the word stands on the page now, the belly of that D like a black archway leading into white nothing. When you see that word, I imagine a little prickle of familiarity makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
I’d continue on with the quote, but I think I’d end up retyping out the whole book if I let myself get carried away. The whole thing is lovely with a beautiful oral storytelling vibe to it. The short of it is: this prose would carry you away even if there weren’t an even deeper current of plot gradually building up speed beneath it.
The first third of this novel had me fooled into thinking this would turn out to be a slice of life novel, right up until January’s father failed to come home one day. Julian has been hired as an archaeological explorer by a wealthy patron, Mr. Locke, and thus rarely is home to see his daughter. Possessed of an odd red skin tone and covered in black tattoos, he’s quite a notable figure to pass on the street. Although she sees him seldom and views Locke as more of a father figure in her day-to-day life, this doesn’t stop January’s world from crumbling around her when she’s told her father hasn’t sent back a letter in a three months and is presumed to be dead.
Fortunately, however, her father managed to provide her with one last gift before he disappeared: a small book, titled “The Ten Thousand Doors.” And suddenly, with this, the Door January discovered at seven… is no longer just something that was out of a myth, a perhaps misremembered and foggy memory. It is real. And her father is out there somewhere, trapped in another world – and with the help of three companions, her childhood friend, her dog (affectionately named “Bad”), and a protector sent by her father from another world, she is going to find him – no matter how many Doors she must pass through or how many stories she must track down. Unfortunately, she soon realizes that she herself is pursued by the same group who had been following her father – a group dedicated to shutting the Doors and eliminating anyone with knowledge of them.
Worlds were supposed to be great rambling houses with all the windows thrown open and the wind and summer rain rushing through them, with magic passages in their closets and treasure chests in their attics. . .
This is certainly a book about journeys as much as it is about destinations, for on her way, January discovers both a first and a true love (though she is perhaps a bit late in recognizing it), the challenges of fending for herself, and what it’s like not to be alone. The romance is a beautiful one – it is slow, it is delicate, and has that brush of the ephemeral that only a young love can have. January has lived a life where everyone she loves is ripped away from her, and the reader, too, must fear a little that this one will not last.
“Maybe,” he said slowly, “maybe I did not make myself clear before, when I said I was on your side. I meant also that would like to be at your side, to go with you into every door and danger, to run with you into your tangled-up future. For” – and a distant part of me was gratified to note that his voice had gone wobbly and strained – “for always, if you like.”
Time – an unreliable, fractious creature since the asylum – now absented itself entirely from the proceedings. It left the two of us floating, weightless, like a pair of dust motes suspended in an afternoon sunlight.
Seeing the love and the sheer hope Harrow infused into each and every word melted my heart. At every turn, this book was plucking at my heartstrings. What is the nature of love, you might ask, and what is required of you when you love someone? That, too, is questioned – and is perhaps something that can only be answered when a test to that love arises.
In all the Doors that hide vampires, were-leopards, or frozen wastelands… there is one that will lead to home. Sometimes, even a closed door can be opened once more.
Thank you to the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review! See also my review of The Once and Future Witches, also by Alix E. Harrow.
About the Author
I’ve been a student and a teacher, a farm-worker and a cashier, an ice-cream-scooper and a 9-to-5 office-dweller. I’ve lived in tents and cars, cramped city apartments and lonely cabins, and spent a summer in a really sweet ’79 VW Vanagon Westfalia. I have library cards in at least five states.
Now I’m a full-time writer living in with my husband and two semi-feral kids in Berea, Kentucky. It is, I’m very sure, the best of all possible worlds.