There are books that are clearly marketed to the Young Adult market that are also designed to hook in more adult readers. And then there are books that are marketed to adults but could just as easily sit on the shelf of a fourteen year old. There is actually no difference. It is all in the marketing. Which brings us to The Ten Thousand Doors of January, the debut novel from Alix Harrow, a book that trope-wise, is about as YA as they come, which is not in itself a criticism, just an observation.
January Scallar is a wilful child who lives with her father’s wealthy employer Mr Locke. It is the turn of the twentieth century and Locke employs January’s father to travel the world searching for (and taking possession of) arcane archaeological treasurers. When she is seven January finds a door in a field that takes her, briefly, into another world. She unwisely tells her Mr Locke, who claims it is all in her wild imagination and almost immediately he puts in place measures to have that imagination suppressed. But as January grows up she finds that perhaps the doors to other worlds are real and that she might have some power to affect them. After her father dies on one of his expeditions, January finds a book called The Ten Thousand Doors, which tells the story of a man from another world who steps through a door and meets a girl from our world. This story sits behind, and ends up explaining, much of the action as January breaks free and goes on a quest find some doors of her own.
Harrow establishes a beguiling premise in which the doors between worlds are the foundation of stories and the way change is effected in the world. The premise goes on to posit that without those doors, and the ability for a little chaos to leak in, our world would become stale. In doing so she creates a series of beautiful and dangerous otherworlds for the characters to explore.
So to the YA tropes: a teenage orphan goes on a quest that helps her discover her latent but growing powers. She is aided on this quest by three loyal companions, one of which is a dog. She is pursued by shadowy, monster-like (adult) figures who she is often able to outwit or subdue using her powers or with the help of her companions. On the way she discovers a grand conspiracy which she has to thwart and the mysteries of her world as she learns the full potential of her powers and develops the ability to harness them.
What sets this book apart is Harrows playful use of language and the way she explores the power of narrative and the very idea of stories:
But a more grown-up, sober-sounding voice reminded me that The Ten Thousand Doors was just a novel, and that novels are untrustworthy advisers. They aren’t concerned with rationality or sobriety; they peddle in tragedy and suspense, in chaos and rule breaking, in madness and heartache, and they will steer you towards such things with all the guile of a piper luring rats into a river.
Which is all to say that The Ten Thousand Doors of January takes a bunch of fairly standard YA tropes and fashions them into something a little different with some stunning prose. This is still a book that should be loved more by 14 to 18 year olds but if adults are looking for something that is literally about finding a door to escape the every day world then The Ten Thousand Doors of January will probably fit the bill.