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

The Ten Thousand Doors of January releases tomorrow!!

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow

Rating:  ★★★★1/2

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this. I was a little bit skeptical because I don’t always have the best track record with YA.  I do think the title is a little misleading.  I originally thought the blurb was misleading too, but looking back I see it’s pretty accurate.  However, if you are going into this expecting a portal fantasy and a girl who travels to a bunch of different fantasy lands… that’s not this book.  It doesn’t need to be that book.  It’s great as it is.

The beginning is fairly slow and requires a lot of patience.  As I said above, if you’re like me, and expecting January to find a door and begin adventuring.. it doesn’t happen for a very long time.  Initially, this is a lot of backstory, building the character of our protagonist and those around her, setting up little dominoes so Harrow can knock them all down brilliantly in the end.

However, once we finally reach the part where we start reading The Ten Thousand Doors (maybe starting at the second chapter) I was sucked into the story and could not put it down. In the middle of the book, this secondary story became compelling much more quickly than the first story, and at times I was frustrated with the direction January’s story was taking.  By the time we reach the end of The Ten Thousand Doors (the book within the book) I was completely hooked by January and Bad, and cared a lot about her as a fictional character.

You’ll likely see the twist coming from a mile away (I did) but that somehow didn’t make that twist any less perfect. It felt like it was where the story needed to go. Beyond that, there were plenty more surprises in store to keep the reader guessing and turning the page.

This is still a grand story, cleverly told.   Each little point in time, each character, has a neat little pin placed in it, no one and nothing forgotten. This book gave me something I feel like I’ve been missing all year, and that is closure. I don’t have any questions, I know what happened to all the characters. The ending is perfect.

The writing in this story beautiful, lyrical, magical. The tone can be very grim at times. January’s race (which is not white, at a time when persons of color in the US and elsewhere were widely unwelcome, to put it mildly) plays an important part in the story, and she is reminded of it constantly. Aside from her race, there are characters in the story who use and abuse her (mentally, verbally, and physically on occasion). To them, she is not a person, she is very much a thing.  It’s heartbreaking and at times I just wanted to scream at the page.  Thank goodness for Jane.

Even though the reader is only given glimpses of other worlds, worlds with leopard people and worlds filled with monsters, I loved how the magic was incorporated into the story. I think this particular magic will appeal to anyone who reads.  Adding to that, there are little trinkets from different worlds incorporated throughout the book, all with their own unique abilities and their parts to play.  It’s this level of detail in the book, the way items are mentioned and forgotten and pulled back in, purposes revealed that I loved so much.

I highly recommend this book to readers of any age.  Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC for review.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January releases tomorrow, September 10! So add it to your GoodReads TBR or head on over to Amazon to check it out!

Month in Review: August 2019

Books read: 9 for August, 68 for the year

Pages read: 3,663 out of 21,723

Average rating: 3.78

Female Authors: 6 out of 33 for the year

Favorite Read:

Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

Tough call between this and last month’s Inland, but as I run a Sci Fi & Fantasy blog I’ll defer to the Fantasy book.  The hype is real for Kel Kade’s Fate of the Fallen.  My review is all written… it’ll just be another month or so before anyone sees it.  (I’m sorry.)

Translated Books Read:

I read three translated books this month!  Go me!

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup – A chilling Nordic thriller that would make for a great fall read!

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa – A highly awarded Japanese dystopian that feels very dreamlike.

Qualityland by Mark-Uwe Kling – Review to come on this one- but if you have a chance to read it and enjoy the kind of humor found in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this one is well worth picking up.  No other book this year made me laugh so much!

ARCs Read:

The Hive by Barry Lyga and Morgan Baden – Review also to come on this one.  Not my favorite book this month but it flew by and I enjoyed it more than not.

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger – Turned out to be a little disappointing but not bad. I may just not be the right audience for this book.

Other reads completed this month:

The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova – A slightly disappointing first entry into a series.  Still haven’t decided if I’ll continue.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – I’VE FINALLY READ IT!  And I see what all the hype is about. Loved this book, even if the ending isn’t quite what I hoped for.

Salvation Day by Kali Wallace – An exciting sci-fi thriller!

ARCs received:

Followers by Megan Angelo – A neat sounding (dystopian?) about internet celebrities.

The Bear by Andrew Krivak – I don’t even know what this one is about (a dad and a daughter on a distant planet I think?).  Truth: I requested it because I love the cover.

Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling – I had never even heard of this when I requested it, but I am so glad I took the risk.  A really funny and hugely relevant novel about the dangers of big business.  (Did I mention it was funny?)

eGalley’s Approved:

Follow Me To Ground by Sue Rainsford – This isn’t the sort of book I usually request, but some of my most favorite books this year have trended towards the literary side of things, and I’m looking forward to giving this a try!

A Pilgrimage of Swords by Anthony Ryan – This novella is being released but Subterranean Press. I recently enjoyed Atmosphaera Incognita as an intro to Neal Stephenson, so I’m hoping this works as an into to Ryan.

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer – *insert gif of excited, screaming, crying tears of joy child here*.  I’m really excited for another book that sheds light on Borne’s world.

The Resisters by Gish Jen – I technically got approved for this in July- but I’ve been waiting for it to have a cover to talk about it.  And look at that cover!  I’m hoping for a literary, dystopian, mind bending, feminist, masterpiece.

Giveaways Won:

Overthrow by Caleb Crain

Overthrow by Caleb Crain – I mentioned this on my mythothon post not too long ago- but part of the reason I added it there was because I had just won it on GoodReads!

Currently reading:

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie – I’d been hoping this would be something I could blast through in a couple days and… eesh.  Was I ever wrong.  The writing style reminds me a lot of Cormac McCarthy’s mind numbing run on sentences in Blood Meridian.  I’m probably going to start something else and just try to read a chapter a day.

Planned reads for August:

In addition to my September Mythothon reads, these are… erm… a few of the others I hope to get to.

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht – A dark villain story that I’m super excited for!

The Institute by Stephen King – Releases on my birthday.  Couldn’t ask for a better birthday present.

A Hero Born by Jin Yong – This was a wish I had granted months ago, and I love historical fantasy.  Fingers crossed the translation is tolerable.

How was August for you?

Book Review: The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

Rating:  ★★★★★

Friends!  I am SO EXCITED to share this review with you today.  This is the book I feel like I have been waiting for since this terrible reading slump hit back in October. I really just needed something to sweep me away- to make me care, to give me a reason to stay curled up on the couch all day and read. It has been a really long time since I read a 500+ page book in a 24 hour period. It was impossible to put down.

This is the story of Omat, an Inuit two-spirit shaman living around 1000 AD, and what happens when his world collides with the world of gods and vikings. It was part survival story, part romance, and part spiritual journey. Extremely rich in mythology and folklore and heavy on the magical realism.

I’m not sure what pronoun is quite correct to use for Omat- so I’m going to stick with ‘he’ because I believe that would be the preferred pronoun. We start with Omat’s miraculous birth, and within the first 20 pages Brodsky had brought me to tears twice. Omat’s tribe is very, very small, and at the time of his birth, the tribe had just lost most of their hunters to the ice. From page one- the stakes already felt extremely high, and continued to remain so throughout the book.

Omat’s grandfather is the tribe’s angakkuq (shaman), and he recognizes when Omat is born that his powers are already greater than his own, so Omat begins training to take his place. This allowed for a lot of the mythology and the folklore to unfold in what I felt were natural ways. Nothing ever felt like an out of place info-dump, or that it was being explained to me for the sake of knowledge alone.

Aside from the mythology and folklore the history itself felt very rich. The reader is given a lot of insight into tools and hunting practices they might have used, the way igloos are built and how they traveled across the land, various social customs, etc.. Again- it was never something that felt dry or unnecessary, and though I myself am no expert in Inuit history, I would wager that Brodsky’s research was very thorough.

The romance was my absolute favorite part of this book. (Spoilers ahead.) Omat being two-spirited brought an added barrier to their relationship. His attraction to Brandr is obvious to the reader from the first moment they meet, but Omat, struggling with the female part of his identity, does not want Brandr to think he is anything but a man. Brandr on the other hand, is struggling with a lot of his own demons, and feelings of general unworthiness. I loved everything about this pair from the moment they met. I loved the obstacles they had to overcome to get from unlikely allies to friends and eventually lovers. I loved that they both had their own identities to grapple with before they could ever find acceptance in the other person. This romance is epic on the scale of Outlander.

I do want to comment about the content. This is a survival story. And more than that it is a survival story in the Artic where food is scarce and hunger is common. There is a lot of hunting and killing of animals and it’s animals that I think we generally frown upon killing today like seals and whales. It’s always done respectfully but it can be hard to read if you’re sensitive to that. Other content warnings: Rape, a really brutal scene of violence against women and children, slavery, loss of parents, loss of siblings, and partners.

The writing was wonderful and an excellent complement to the setting itself. You could feel the biting wind and the frost in your face, the pangs of hunger from subsisting on meager meals, the feeling of fullness from that first real meal eaten in days. I was reminded a lot of the atmospheric writing in The Bear and the Nightingale, though the books themselves have little in common.

If I had to criticize one thing- it would be the climax of the story. ***END BOOK SPOILERS: I wasn’t entirely sure the tone of that final showdown between the Aesir and the Jotunn really fit the rest of the book. The prior spiritual journeys and memory sharing I would have classified as magical realism, while the final battle felt like pure fantasy. By that time, I was already so invested in the book I was willing to shrug it off.

END SPOILERS.

I loved this book enough that I will probably buy a hard copy to keep forever. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in Inuit and Norse history and mythology.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

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Rating: ★★★★

“…grief’s only ever as deep as the love it’s replaced.”

Guess we’ll go ahead and get the content warnings out of the way: rape, PTSD, death of children, suicide, graphic violence.

This is largely a re-telling of Homer’s Iliad. It takes place during the nine year long siege of Troy. Briseis is wife to the King of Lyrnessus (I’ve probably spelled that wrong- apologies). We meet her just as the city is about to fall. She watches from the battlements as Achilles rages his way into the city. Someone jump from the battlements, preferring death to slavery. Briseis does not jump. Instead she is given to Achilles, yes that Achilles, as his war prize.

This book has a far different feel than you might expect. The past tends to be romanticized, the war, the glory of it, the conquering heroes. But Briseis, once a queen, now a slave tells this story, and nothing about it is romantic. I won’t lie- you sort of expect it at some points, but I think it’s on the reader- not on the author. Briseis never makes her story an easy one to hear. She is always reminding the reader what she endures. What she must go through to become a person again.

“…and no girl ever dressed more carefully for her wedding day than Achilles for the battlefield…”

But this is just as much Achilles story. Achilles, son of Peleus, leader of the Myrmidions. Achilles, whose only weakness is his heel. Great Achilles, hero to all Greece. In The Silence of the Girls, he is still all those things, but he is also many other things. I don’t know if he could be described as being obsessive, but he seems delusional at times. He also seems to have some kind of Oedipus complex. His thoughts and thought patterns are sometimes disturbing. And he was absolutely fascinating to read.

“I was invisible except in bed. In fact, I’m not sure how visible I was there, except as a collection of body parts.”

Briseis’s character was also fascinating, and felt very real. She struggles a lot to come to terms with the fact that she comes to love some of these men, but can never forget what they did to her home, her father, and brothers. She also can’t reconcile their enslavement of her.

The setting was sometimes difficult to imagine. She kept talking of huts in the same breath as verandas and compounds. They didn’t seem to go together (though in the beginning she does say the huts are not really huts). The book could be slow at times. You don’t witness much of the battles. It is largely a character driven novel.

Additionally the ending was unsatisfying and left me feeling sort of confused about my feelings overall for the book. Parts of it are uplifting- reminding us there can always be something to laugh about, that the shared experiences of women can be a uniting factor even if personal differences stand in the way of friendship. Larger parts of it were just tragedy- about the horrors of war, the silence of women, and all voices that can’t always speak for themselves, the dangers of allowing petty differences separate us.

It was beautifully written though and I found it hard to put to down. Highly recommend to fans of historical fiction or historical fantasy.

“…in my experience men are curiously blind to aggression in women. They’re the warriors, with their helmets and armour, their swords and spears, and they don’t seem to see our battles—or they prefer not to. Perhaps if they realized we’re not the gentle creatures they take us for their own peace of mind would be disturbed?”

The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

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Rating: ★★★

I had to force myself to finish this today. I’m happy to report that despite the anachronisms I really enjoyed the last 200 or so Pages… but those first 300.. oh man. What. A. Drag.

This is about the man behind the myth of Merlin… more specifically, Merlin’s twin sister, Langoureth. Set in sixth century Scotland, we watch Langoureth grow from a child to a teen, and eventually an adult.

I want to start by saying the “romance” in this book is nonsensical to the point of being comedic. I wish I was exaggerating. This is the absolute worst case of instalove I have ever seen. The author interpreted “Love at first sight” quite literally. By the end of the book I think they’ve actually spent a running total of four days together, and if you’ve only counted the hours of those days it’s probably less than 24 hours.

Secondly, this is written like it was set in renaissance times.. with talk of royalty and princesses and cavalry and generals and Arabian dancers from overseas… To be fair to the author- for all I know, they did have such things in 6th century “Scotland”, but I for one have surely never read a book set in this time period that used words like that. The language could have used some heavy editing to make the book feel more authentic. At one point I read “fleece lined couches” and I sort of wanted to scream in rage. Yes, let’s gather the Knights of the Round Table in the great room by the hearth and set them on couches. Then we’ll grab General Lancelot and send him on a mission of chivalry. WTF.

Sorry. Rant over. If you manage to stick it out, and can eventually let all that nonsense go, the book does become rather enjoyable. I’m so used to reading books set from the battlefield, that to see the women working behind the scenes to support husbands, fathers, brothers, etc. was a nice change. Even though the romance was ridiculous, I found the story itself quite romantic, and was able to just sit back and appreciate the making of Merlin and Uther Pendragon.

The author did manage to include lots of Celtic rituals and lore and at least on that front, I do think she has done her research (although- as stated above, wth do I know). The characters were sort of flat and one sided. I did appreciate Elufed because I felt like you never really knew where she stood. I loved Ariane and Cathan but there wasn’t enough of them. Some character’s stories felt unfinished. I also felt the author projected some rather modern feelings and ideas on to these characters, that again, wouldn’t have fit the time.

So if you are itching for a lighter fantasy, another facet of Arthurian lore, this wouldn’t be a bad book to pick up. I do recommend you don’t go into it expecting authentic feeling history though. You’ll be disappointed.