The Ten thousand doors of january by Alix E. Harrow

Stars: 3.5 rounded up.

January is an in-between kind of girl. Born to a black father and a probably white mother in the early 1900s, raised by a wealthy patron in huge house full of treasures and wonders pilfered from around the world by her father. Her status is in-between also – not quite a pupil, not quite a servant, maybe a rare find too alive to go into a display case? Until she finds a leather-bound book and opens a door that leads into a different world…

This book is about discovering your own worth and coming into your own strength. It’s about realizing that if you spend your life cutting vital parts of yourself just to fit in to a rigid mold that somebody else created for you, you might look like a perfect little girl on the outside, but you will feel empty and miserable inside.

January tried very hard to be what Mr. Locke expected her to be – silent, almost invisible, perfectly well behaved. A breathing, living doll. What else was she supposed to do when her father was never there to tell her otherwise and when her whole world depended on the good graces of that distant and almighty man who took her and her father in when she was just an infant? But all this time she had felt lonely, empty, miserable, like half of her has been cut off and shut in one of the glass cabinets filling the Locke House.

So when she picks up the silver knife and writes letters into her own flesh, she doesn’t only open a door to a different reality – she also throws open the door to her own cell, the one Mr. Locke had been building around her since her childhood. By stepping through the threshold between worlds, she sets herself free to be what she wants to be – wild and free, and fearless, a wanderer of worlds.

This book is also about our perception of ourselves and the world around us, and about how often things are not what they seem to be. Monsters can hide behind perfectly benign masks. A meek half-blooded girl can turn into a fierce untamed spirit that will blow open all kinds of doors.

I liked this story a lot, but I felt like the beginning dragged. I understand that we needed to immerse ourselves in the oppressive structure of January’s early existence in Locke House, but I feel that this part could have been condensed without loosing much of the effect. She could have found that book earlier. She could have read it over a longer period of time. That way we wouldn’t have had chapter after chapter of seemingly unrelated story wedged into the part of January’s narrative that had just started picking up speed, suspense and tension. It really kills the flow of the book and was a source of frustration for me.

Once the issue of the book is finally over and we don’t get the endless interruptions in the narrative flow, the story picks up speed and becomes much more interesting. There is suspense, there are high stakes and satisfying conclusions. The ending was maybe too neatly wrapped up in a little pink bow for my taste, but I am a cynic at heart, so don’t mind me.

My other complaint about this book is that the only really fleshed-out characters are January, her parents, and her dog Bad (short for Sinbad), and the parents aren’t even present for 90% of the story. All other characters are walking labels put there to advance the story. The mysterious, maybe good, maybe bad Mr. Locke, who serves as a father figure for January in her real father’s continued absence. There is the inevitable love interest, and the mysterious lady protector/friend that was sent by her real father… They never develop personalities outside of those stereotypes. That’s probably why I was more upset when the bad people hurt Bad then when they threatened to hurt January’s love interest (heck, after finishing the book, I can’t even remember his name).

But despite those two gripes, this was a rather enjoyable book. I liked the world, I loved the fact that unlike a lot of urban fantasies now, it’s set in the past century, not in our modern times. I liked the story of one in-between girl deciding to forge her own path and create her own destiny instead of conforming to the image everyone else had of her.

PS. I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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