Alix E. Harrow’s debut historical fiction is very much for the philosophical reader. It has a Gothic core – a wild girl confined by her guardian and society to ladylike life in a labyrinthine mansion full of magical artifacts from around the world. But then the story shifts into proper mind-bending magic realism, peppered with history, philosophy, mythology, epic romance, and social issues. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is especially interested in the glory of books and writing and storytelling and bending the rules of rationality with unbridled imagination… Very exciting!
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Where to begin? Parallel worlds, legends, doors, words, family, love, social and racial inequality, female liberation. The concepts this novel discusses through rich prose are numerous. They emerge as the girl, January, discovers the extraordinary truth about her origin and powers with the help of a strange book she finds in the house: The Ten Thousand Doors. The world-hopping adventure that follows opens her eyes – and ours – further.
Bold Narrative Style
Some people like description. Others don’t. This book is for the former, who will be happily swept away by the sheer personality and devices that drive the narration. This work is also a good example of modern metafiction, full of self-conscious references to its own literariness, as well as explorations of the relationship between words and reality. Lots of thinking. Lots of vibrant imagery.
January is a girl of colour “tamed”, dressed up, and put on display by her guardian, Mr. Locke, whose money and influence shields her from the world. So her struggle for freedom involves more than strengthening herself as a woman. She has to come face-to-face with racial and social discrimination for the first time. Fortunately, her trusty dog, Bad, likes to bite the arms and ankles of anyone who messes with her. An inspiring duo you can’t help but root for. Several other intriguing characters come into play too.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, an eye-catching title too, is an invaluable reading experience. Prepare for a mesmerising journey through perhaps more thresholds than you can handle. Dive in and let us know how you managed.
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And continue exploring what makes a good authorial voice. Or would you rather discover what Gothic literature actually means?