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

Book Review The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E HarrowToday my husband and I celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary (I like to point out we were together for six years before that, because those six years were important, too). One of my favorite things about my husband is his ability to make me laugh so hard the muscles in my stomach hurt. Sometimes I look at him and notice how handsome he is, and I get that feeling people get when they are first falling in love. After all these years, I’m still a bit twitterpated.

Just in case he reads this, and all the lovey-dovey stuff goes to his head, I should also say he’s capable of being a bit exasperating. It is football season, after all, and he’s as married to his phone as he is to me (checking stats, updating his fantasy rosters, texting friends about who-knows-or cares-what). Football is a small price to pay for a lifetime of happiness though, and I’m looking forward to the next 16 years together.

In my usual meandering way, this brings me to The Ten Thousand Doors of January, a story about a young lady named January Scaller who, at the age of seven, finds a door to another world. Her discovery is interrupted by her guardian, a wealthy man named Mr. Locke, who quickly destroys the portal and hastens January back to his estate. There, Mr. Locke keeps treasures from around the world, acquired for him by January’s father. January likes Locke House with all it’s worldly curiosities, but more than anything she wishes to join her father on his travels. When January discovers a book filled with tales of doors to other worlds, she must choose between the ordered life of Locke House, and a life of adventure.

Portals to other worlds are well-worn literary terrain. Thusly, the magic of this book can’t be described merely by the plot (though it’s entertaining enough). Instead, the magic of this book is revealed through how it’s told. It beguiles through smartly crafted sentences; passages that feel seasoned and wise, even though it’s only the author’s first novel. Characters are richly described. There are numerous sections that seem to speak to greater truths about the world beyond the book.

In preparing for this post, I transcribed at least a dozen quotes worth savoring. It’s hard to choose between them all, though I must – because you really can’t understand the charm of this tale without a little sample. Since it is my anniversary (see? there was a reason for my romantic blathering earlier) let’s turn to this timely quote about love:

Once we have agreed that true love exists, we may consider its nature. It is not, as many misguided poets would have you believe, an event in and of itself; it is not something that happens, but something that simply is and always has been. One does not fall in love; one discovers it.

Isn’t that beautiful? The entire novel is rife with lovely, quotable prose. I found myself frequently re-reading paragraphs to absorb their beauty.

For that reason, I would describe this as a reader’s novel. I guarantee it won’t be the most original, or the most profound thing you’ve ever read, but it has that feel-good, comforting quality like catching up with an old friend. To illustrate my point, I can’t help sharing one more quote:

Those of you who are more than casually familiar with books – those of you who spend your free afternoons in fusty bookshops, who offer furtive, kindly strokes along the spines of familiar titles – understand that page riffling is an essential element in the process of introducing oneself to a new book. It isn’t about reading the words; it’s about reading the smell, which wafts from the pages in a cloud of dust and wood pulp. It might smell expensive and well bound, or it might smell of tissue-thin paper and blurred two-color prints, or of fifty years unread in the home of a tobacco-smoking old man. Books can smell of cheap thrills or painstaking scholarship, of literary weight or unsolved mysteries.

I tend to spend quite a lot of time in fusty bookshops, reverently touching the spines as I peruse the stacks. I do refrain from actually smelling the books while in the shop (though I will admit to that indulgence in the privacy of my own home). I think the novel, and that passage in particular, will resonate with book lovers.

So next time you find yourself in your favorite bookstore, or if you happen to participate in a book club, you might consider The Ten Thousand Doors of January. I think you will like it.

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