Coming right on the heels of her recent Hugo Award for Best Short Story, Alix E. Harrow has released her debut novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January. This brand new work of American fantasy presents the story of January Scaller, a seventeen-year-old girl with the ability to travel through portals between alternate universes. In a genre filled with cliches and retellings, January’s tale comes as completely out of thin air as the doors she conjures.
January Scaller can travel between worlds, an ability that comes naturally, but sets her at odds with her foster father and mysterious benefactor, Mr. Locke, who tells her to forget about it. Mr. Locke also employs her real father, Julian. January cannot remember a life with her mother in it. However, as she grows older and more distant from Julian, January feels less and less at home in Mr. Locke’s house. She feels stifled by the turn-of-century expectations placed on a teenage girl who appears African-American. But, spoiler alert, January’s father isn’t from any of seven known continents; he’s from a completely different world! When Mr. Locke tries to get January to join a mysterious gentlemen’s club filled with vampires and creepy uberjagers. She runs, they chase, and the resulting, rollicking adventure ride spans across worlds.
Even though the yarn opens in Vermont, it’s got deep roots in the American South, weaving together homespun folklore with beautiful magic systems. Julian’s arms are covered in an elegant kind of magic: tattoos from another planet. January, naturally, displays a healthy obsession with the nascent pulp fiction genre that had begun spreading its wings. Really, this novel thrives on adventure, from the creepy, artifact-sucking Mr. Locke to all the globe-trotting her father does for American businessmen to January’s scrappy team of misfits, which include a savage guard dog, her childhood best friend, and Jane, a badass Kenyan sharpshooter. January’s story is one about race and the historical narrative.
While bold and unconventional, but the story gets so busy packing on novelties, at times it forgets to really develop the strong characters it has. January, while certainly hunted the entire book, overcomes the difficult decision to confront the patriarchy, but that’s really kind of expected in this book. After that, she faces few moral quandaries because she’s so busy running either from Locke or to her father. Time and time again, January’s adventure sweeps her off of her feet rather than being driven by her.
January Scaller’s story is filled with creepy dudes in nice suits, brand-new homegrown fantasy, and love. It’s a story about a girl trying to reunite with her family. It’s American as apple pie and tart as a Granny Smith. The door remains open for a sequel…
Three stars out of five.
Favorite quote: “I didn’t tell the truth, because then my only remaining relative would think I was insane and I’d developed something of an allergy to people thinking I was insane.”