Under 1%.

That’s how many publisher recommendations and reading copies have slipped into my stacks this year (apart from paid review work).

Because my policy has always been to review every book I’m sent, I’ve always been very particular about what makes it to my post box.

But recently I have perfected the art of saying “no, thank you”.

(It wasn’t always like this: in 2014, that statistic was 35%!)

Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January (Hachette, 2019) was a ‘yes’ for me this summer. In an I-can-count-them-on-my fingers year of approvals.

This had something to do with it:

Nebula Award nominee (Best Short Story)
Hugo Award Winner (Best Short Story)
2018 Apex Magazine Story of the Year Winner
Eugie Award Finalist
WSFA Award Finalist
Locus Award Finalist

Not for The Ten Thousand Doors of January, but for her short story: “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies.”

And for her acknowledged love of portal fantasies as a girl-reader.

But even more so for her determination to remake them as grown-up-writer.

She describes this process in an interview with A.C. Wise:

“And after that I started thinking about turning portal fantasies inside out and backwards—making them about home-going rather than escape, about belonging rather than conquering.

(My ideal fantasy realm is something like Earthsea, where I would tend goats and work women’s magic and no one would ever know my name. Or maybe it’s Hogwarts, where I teach the History of Magic properly. Or maybe it’s Novik’s Wood in Uprooted? Anyway, I live in a house like Howl’s and have doors leading to every realm on different days of the week).”

Something else that swayed me? Everywhere you look, where there’s talk of Alix E. Harrow writing, there is talk of her reading. Nothing wins my reader’s (and writer’s) heart more immediately and wholly.

When she speaks about her writing process, she speaks about her reading process. And sometimes the talk is overtly celebratory, as in her interview with “The Nerd Daily”, which concludes with a list of recommendations.

In an interview with Barnes & Noble (in which writers are interviewed by their SO), she offers a succinct description of her story and then elaborates:

“One of the conceits of the book is that Doors leak. Ideas, people, objectsand especially change. So I mostly worked backwards, beginning with a story or event in our world and imagining the secret Door that might exist behind it. The Indian Rebellion of 1857. Toussaint L’Ouverture’s revolution. Selkie stories in Maine and boo-hangs in New Orleans. And there may or may not be references to a couple of other fantasy worlds. (Readers, your clue is: alabaster.)”

See? More stories.

I also love the sound of her next story (also discussed in her “The Nerd Daily” interview): “My next book is another standalone historical fantasy from Orbit with a three-word pitch: suffragettes, but witches.”

In the same way that I hoped Diane Setterfeld’s The Thirteenth Tale would be bookish enough, in the same way that I hoped that Ami McKay’s Moth stories would be witchy enough, in the same way that I hoped Becky Chambers’ trilogy would be weird enough: I hoped that saying ‘yes’ to Alix E. Hawley’s novel would make it magic enough. And it did.