This story mainly takes place in the first few years of the 20th Century and at the start of the book it is 1901. The setting (for most part) is the Eastern Seaboard where Mr. Cornelius Locke is the multi-millionaire owner of several estates and the head of the New England Archaeological Society.
The story is told from the point-of-view of his charge, little January Scaller. January is obviously a mixed-race child but she knows little of her background. She is a small child at the start of the book but we follow her and her adventures as she goes through her teenage years. . We also know very little about January’s background other than her father - a black man - who has been hired by Mr. Locke to go out into the world and collect objects of interest for Mr. Locke’s museum. January only sees him on occasion but longs to see him more often.
January is a wonderful character; adventurous, precocious and obviously gifted in ways that are unclear at the start of the story. We know that January has the ability to go through “Doors” that lead into other mystical and miraculous places. (This is no spoiler, you know from the very start.) Also important is a small book/diary called The Thousand Doors -something January finds early on which proves to be key to the plot.
What is not clear is the nature of these “Doors” - their origin, why they exist and how you gain entry.
I’m a little concerned about giving away any spoilers because I think it’s important to know “what happens next” when the author wants you to, to get the most enjoyment out of the book. What I will be able to say is that we follow January as she finds out about her own origins and background and those of these mysterious “Doors.” There is a resolution to the story and by the end, we get the answers to most of our questions.
Saying that, I had mixed reactions to the story. On the one hand it was incredibly imaginative and unique and boy do I give it credit for that. The concept of the Doors and the way they are used in the story is great.
The prose is for the most part pretty great if you like whimsical, which I do. At the same time it felt like every paragraph had to be particularly clever and for the reader, it gets a little exhausting. So much so I was tempted to skim a few parts 1/3 of the way through.
However, once I got to the halfway section I could not put it down which is high praise.
Examples of overworked writing:
“Word-magic comes at a cost, you see, as power always does. Words draw their vitality from their writers, and thus the strength of the a word is limited by the strength of its human vessel. Acts of word-magic leave their workers ill and drained and they more ambitious their working - the more it defies the warp and weft of the world as it is - the higher the toll. Most everyday sorts of word-workers lack the force of will to risk more than an occasional nosebleed and a day spent in bed, but. More gifted persons must spend years in careful study and training, learning restraint and balance, lest they drain away their very lives.”
Now this isn’t necessarily bad, it’s even a bit charming it just gets a little tedious as a reader to continually read paragraphs like this one after the other.
An example of wonderful prose:
“There was only one remarkable fact about the family: when Adelaide Lee was born, every last living Larson was female. Through poor luck, heart failure, and cowardice, their husbands and sons had left behind a collection of hard-jawed women who looked so similar to one another it was like seeing a single woman’s life spread out in every possible stage.”
I really do recommend this book. This is a talented writer who has written a truly imaginative novel and that is saying something in this time and age when stories all seem so similar.