A fanciful young woman with promise is being moulded into a lady – but her imagination strains against the fetters of what is considered proper. Can January find the doors that will let her escape to the other worlds she dreams of?
It is my hope that this story is your thread, and at the end of it you find a door.
What a book. What a wonderful book. Let’s start with that glorious prose, shall we? This is one of those cheeky tales where the narrative begs to be read aloud, its personable voice sometimes breaking the page to address the reader, sometimes lost in its own musings, but always full of compassion. It’s a book about the power of words, so it deploys unexpected descriptors with aplomb (or the reckless confidence of a teenage reader). And yet it’s self-aware enough to know it can be dismissed as a flight of fancy, so it revels in scents, bringing its worlds alive to your senses.
Magic, then. The magic of words brought to bear on a story about the magic of storytelling. From the start, there’s a gorgeous elision of what is real and what is fancy; you can take everything at face value or as a commentary on the power of creativity and imagination (take it as real, you fool, stop overthinking it).
Of course I was helpless before it.
At its most basic level, this is a coming of age tale: the story of January Scaller, ward of rich antiquities collector Mr Locke, living on his estate while her father seeks marvels to add to the collection. Temerarious January, who constantly wriggles from under the constraints she is raised with in spite of the best efforts of stern German governesses and their Victorian ‘cures’. A wild, frustrated girl whose dreams push the boundaries of her limited world, whose fancies those charged with her care do their best to dismiss.
But January tries her best to make Mr Locke happy. He knows what’s best for her, after all. And she desperately wants her surrogate Dad’s love and approval – even after his condescending lecture on the colour of power. Because January is not just a young woman in a rich man’s world, she’s a young woman of colour. Whilst she’s protected from what that would mean beyond the estate’s walls, she slowly comes to suspect she’s just another curiosity in Mr Locke’s collection.
When she’s seventeen – slowly forced into the narrow mould Mr Locke deems proper – January finds a book in a secret place where gifts sometimes appear. We’ve been reading it since the start in alternating chapters full of adventure; now January seeks solace in its pages until her carefully-constructed boundaries come crashing down in a thrilling final act of rebellion.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a romance (of lovers, but also of reading) and a portal fantasy, a promise of doors that can open and the many worlds beyond them. Those who read it to unpick its mysteries will perhaps find its grand reveals a little obvious, but for me this is a story of a young woman learning to cast aside girlish ideas and seize her own destiny. I found January’s journey deeply satisfying and beautifully told.
Don’t ask me about the villains; it’s enough to know that they had me rail against patriarchy and then chilled me with their remorseless dedication to their awful cause. Instead, let’s talk about the friends January so desperately needs and celebrate that Jane and Ade get to be fierce, untamed women while Julian and Samuel are steadfast, brave men.
It had me at hello, and it didn’t let go until it was done and I was wrung out, heart overflowing, eyes brimming the way they do when a narrative invites me to go commit acts of imagination. I can see The Ten Thousand Doors of January being a reread and a comfort read, and certainly a book I recommend wholesale.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Content warning: self harm (cutting)