Book Review: “The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic” by Leigh Bardugo

For Christmas, my mother got me the Six of Crows duology, and I recently started reading it. It’s been on my TBR list forever, but finally having it in my hands has made me crack it open. I had wondered if all the reviewers had been exaggerating how good it was, but now I know they were not. I haven’t yet finished the book (I’ll probably put that review up next week), but I am here to share something else that has to do with the Grishaverse: The Language of Thorns.

IMG_20180112_215551_166This is a book I found while wandering around Barnes & Noble on Friday. I saw that it was by the same author as Six of Crows, so I picked it up and flipped through it. This book is gorgeous. Not only is the cover incredible, but every single page is illustrated. Each of the short stories have a continuous image that grows over the course of the book and culminates in a two-page spread at the end of the story. It’s absolutely gorgeous. My boyfriend was watching over my shoulder as I read, and even he noted how stunning the illustrations and the continuous images were.

I’m not usually a fan of fairy tales based in a specific world, because a lot of authors who release their own fairy tales are just bad rehashes of the Grimm tales or Perrault tales. Luckily, with Language of Thorns, that isn’t the case. These are myths, legends, fairy tales if you want to call them that, and they are stunning. While technically, these stories are retellings, they are retellings in a way that you will never see coming. There are six stories, one each from the Zemeni, Kerch, and Fjerdan, and three from the Ravkan. None of them end up where you think they’re going to, either, which was a complete and total surprise for me. I was absolutely in awe of Bardugo’s storytelling ability in this short story collection. Her author’s note at the end reveals what fairy tale each story is based on.

“Ayama and the Thorn Wood” is the first story in the collection, and Bardugo says it is loosely based on “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s her Zemeni story. What I like most about this one is that it gives the main character, Ayama, agency where she never had it before. I sort of guessed at the ending of this one, but it was still a pleasant surprise.

“The Too-Clever Fox” tells the tale of Koja, a fox who uses his words to escape tight places. Eventually these words put him into a tight place, and it forever changes him. This ending was the first one that shocked me.

“The Witch of Duva” is the darkest tale of the bunch, and I literally gasped out loud when I read the last two pages. The twist in this one is so dark. It’s the “Hansel and Gretel” story, but it is so much darker. I know I’ve now used the word “dark” in every sentence of this short summary, but man, I can’t overemphasize the way this story is.

“Little Knife” made me just kinda put the book down for a second after I read the ending. My boyfriend was looking over my shoulder at the end, and I told him what I had read, and he was like, “Well, okay, then.”

“The Soldier Prince” is the Kerch tale, and it’s a retelling of The Nutcracker. It took me a minute to catch on to the Nutcracker part of it, despite the fact that it does feature a nutcracker very prominently, but I am very much in favor of this one. I almost wish it had been longer. The illustration along the border of this one may be my favorite one.

“When Water Sang Fire” is the Fjerdan tale, and is a retelling of The Little Mermaid. It has the most-involved illustration along the page edges, and is the longest tale in the book, clocking in at nearly 80 pages.

Usually, in a short story collection, there is one standout story among a bunch of mediocre ones. I am happy to tell you that that is not the case here. Each of these stories is engaging, and I would not label any of them as being mediocre. I found myself confused a few times, but I chalk that up to me not being completely aware of the world that this collection is set in. (I’ve only read half of Six of Crows; that’s the extent of my knowledge of the Grishaverse.) I would be very hard-pressed to pick a favorite out of any of these. The characters are engaging. The plots have some very unexpected twists (at least in my opinion). The illustrations add so much to the page borders. I really could just praise this non-stop.

If you are a lover of fairy tales, a fan of the Grishaverse, or if you just enjoy a good tale in general, please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book. The illustrations alone are completely worth it. I would gladly pay for a full-size poster of some of these!

I honestly have no problems giving this book 5/5 stars. It’s a wonderful and fresh retelling of so many stories (you can see the bones of Hansel and Gretel in one of them, for sure) and Bardugo’s way with words is absolutely incredible. It will certainly become one of my favorite short story collections. I am also pleased that my copy is actually signed by the author. It was the only signed copy at my local B&N, but I’m sure there are several more throughout other stores. Just look for an inserted first page in the copy you pick up.

Have you read this? Are you planning on getting it? Did you even know it existed? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.

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