Adult · Book review · Fantasy

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

40794181I think that at its heart, The Ten Thousand Doors of January has a great message. It is based on some really clever and interesting ideas, especially the ones surrounding the role of doors, of magic and portal fantasy. I also thought that the writing was – usually, more on that later – beautiful without needing to draw that much attention to itself, every word chosen carefully. It had a harmony to it, as if it were made to be read out loud; I think it would sound amazing as an audiobook.

I was also going to say that this book had a solid portrayal of the psychological consequences of childhood abuse, but something that happened in the second half made me change my mind. One didn’t need that to make January’s struggle to talk back and disobey realistic. It kind of undermined the whole thing.
Anyway, abuse does have a relevant role in this story, as the biracial main character is raised by a racist white man and abused both by him and by her white maid; at one point the main character also experiences forced institutionalization and abuse at the hand of psychiatrists, which I wish I had known before reading.

The rest of the book is… fine. I don’t have much to say about it, because one of my problems with it was exactly how unremarkable it was. All the characters but January didn’t have any dimension to them. All the portal worlds but one are barely described.
Also, it took me more than two weeks only to get through the first 30%. It was partly my fault, but everything I have to say on the pacing isn’t good.

While I said that the author clearly put effort in choosing the right words, the same didn’t happen when it came to including Italian ones. This led to jarring sentences and weird moments, like the one in which the Italian-American love interest calls the main character a “strega”, as if that were a compliment. It does mean “witch”, yes, but not in the way the English word does. It doesn’t carry the same connotations, the aspect of the cool independent woman who saves herself. I asked the people around me, and it doesn’t make any of us think of mysterious, dangerous but alluring magic. A strega is an old woman with a pointy hat and warts. He basically called her a hag.

It might be that the character, having grown up in America, sees the word as just a translation – but then, why not use the word “witch”, if that’s what you mean. And why use Italian words at all, if you don’t even bother to get the plural right? Was that a sign of laziness, of not even caring that other languages don’t do plurals the way English does, or was it done to cater to monolingual anglophones who might be confused by an Italian plural but still want a sprinkle of ~exotic flavor~?
I don’t know, I don’t particularly care, but in a book that attempted to talk about exotification among other things, this struck me as hypocritical.

My rating: ★★½

12 thoughts on “Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

  1. Omg- I feel awful I didn’t have that warning about the asylum in my review. I’m so sorry. I read so many books with things of this nature it doesn’t always occur to me what might be needed for content warnings. I hope your next read is better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh- about the Strega, I actually didn’t even realize it was Italian, I was familiar with it from the Witcher, which uses Striga, and is actually vampirism in that book… so it never even occurred t me that it was something else in another language.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s interesting because the Italian strega and the Eastern European strigoi/striga/shtriga all come from the same latin word (strix, I think) but mean completely different things. The thing they have in common is that they’re evil magical things, all of them.

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    2. Don’t worry! The author did put those warnings on goodreads, so they are easily accessible if one is looking for them. I just didn’t think to do that, because I didn’t think this would have anything to do with psychiatrists? I do look that kind of thing up when I go into books I know are going to deal with mental health topics. Anyway, it’s fine – when I get to unexpectedly upsetting scenes, I just start skimming a little until the situation has changed.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, I really wanted to love this book, and part of me does kind of admire the…aesthetic of it, I guess? Like, it’s a beautiful story that feels like an old tale. But I just wasn’t as invested emotionally as I wanted to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did like the aesthetic, as well – and the idea of doors as necessary bringers of change, and the main portal world in this book. I liked a lot of things as an idea, but not in practice. I wasn’t that emotionally invested either.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh this is the first more ‘negative’ review I read about this book. I can really understand your points though!
    Great review!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t seen many negative reviews either, and I can see why – it is beautifully written and I loved what it was trying to do; I just didn’t think it succeeded, but that seems to be the unpopular opinion.
      And thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

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