Title: The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Short Story Collections
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.
Leigh Bardugo won my heart several years ago, with her debut novel, Shadow and Bone. I never finished The Grisha Trilogy, but when Six of Crows came out, I read that, and I’m actually rereading it aloud to my husband. So when I heard that she was publishing a fully illustrated collection of short stories set in different lands of her Grishaverse, I was so excited, and I immediately put it on hold at my local library. It sat in my library stack for a month or so, beckoning me with its creepy cover and lovingly rendered illustrations. When I finally got to it, I was so excited. First of all, the gorgeous illustrations! Second of all: fairy tales! I’m a total sucker for both, and Leigh Bardugo pulls no punches with this collection of six stories, taking traditional stories and gutting them open. I was absolutely enthralled, and I loved the way the stories gave an interesting viewpoint into the many diverse cultures of the Grishaverse. Normally short story collections are a grab bag for me, but every one of these tales was beautifully written, lushly illustrated, dark and gory and magical, and I was absolutely enchanted. I devoured this collection in a day and a half, and for weeks after, the illustrations have danced through my dreams, coloring even my thoughts in sleep.
Amaya and the Thorn Wood reminded me a bit of Beauty and the Beast, The Arabian Nights, and The Brave Little Tailor mixed together. I really liked the main character, because at the beginning, she seemed like an unlikely hero. The prose was beautiful, as were the illustrations, and I was totally spellbound. I loved the way the poor village girl braved a dark, enchanting forest to tell stories to a misunderstood monster. And the way it ended! It was so wonderful and gleefully wicked. I loved it.
The next story was The Too-Clever Fox, and this one is vying for my favorite book in the whole collection. This one is set in the dark, wintry forests, and the titular fox spends the story scheming his way out of various scrapes and close calls. That is, until he lets his guard down and gets close to a village girl, and barely manages to escape with his life. I loved the tone, and it was almost like a Grimm’s fairy tale mixed with an Aesop fable. Plus, it had a very magical feel, what with the talking animals, mysterious hunters, and villains that aren’t obvious. This story is one of my favorites; a fable about trust, bravery, and resourcefulness.
The Witch of Duva follows these two, and it was inspired by Hansel and Gretel. A young woman gets lost in the woods after being ousted by her family members, and when the enticing, bewitching (heh, I couldn’t resist, sorry not sorry!) scent of candy and gingerbread leads her to a witch’s home, she doesn’t get eaten; in fact, she becomes the witch’s assistant and apprentice. When she realizes that her savior is hiding dark secrets, she must decide if she should leave and forge her own path, or stay with the best friend she’s ever known. I really liked the way the Hansel and Gretel tale was flipped onto its head, with the witch not as a villain but a strong woman who rose above her circumstances, even becoming an adoptive mother! Flipped fairy tales for the win!
Little Knife was another favorite of mine, and I loved it. Rife with romance, deception, magic, and talking rivers, it is the tale of the poor man trying to win the rich beauty. Faced with several challenges along the way, the man asks the river, whom he names Little Knife, for help. The river obliges each time, until the man wins the girl. But it turns out that Little Knife will be owned by no one, and the river offers the man’s fiancée a life of freedom, away from the trappings of wealth and political intrigue of her family. I loved this story. First of all, talking rivers. Second of all, a jaw-dropping, feminist ending! I was reeling at the end. Wily beings and unexpecting endings for the win!
The Soldier Prince is the second to last story in the collection, and I loved that it was inspired by The Nutcracker. That’s always been one of my very favorite stories, from the time that I saw the ballet in elementary school. A clever toymaker crafts a little soldier, to spy on the daughter of a rich merchant’s family. And at first, the little soldier prince follows along with the plan, enchanting the young woman with gorgeous, magical worlds that may or may not be real. But when he realizes his origins and begins to rebel against his ‘father’s’ plans, he begins to wonder what he, and not his master, wants for his life, and begins to harness the magic within himself. I really liked the tone of the story, the prose and pacing, and I was pleasantly shocked by the ending!
When Water Sang Fire is the last story of the book, and I was absolutely enthralled by it. It’s my favorite of the whole volume. I love The Little Mermaid; it’s one of my favorite Hans Christen Anderson fairy tales, and I loved it even more when I saw the Disney film when it came out. (Cue Part of Your World for me! Lol.) But Bardugo gives this retelling an even darker, magical twist: Royal sirens! Two misfits in the ocean gravitate toward each other, bound by magic and their longing for more than their pitiful lives among the sea people. When they and their best friend, the prince of their realm, go up to land for the first time, they discover the wonders and trappings of the human world. When the prince asks his friends to do something unforgivable, the trio are divided for the first time. When they give in to the call of the dark power of forbidden magic, one ends up married, the other, transformed into a powerful, vengeful sea witch. I loved the ending, and the illustration caught my imagination and stopped my heart. What a story to pick for the closer! Overall, this collection is one of the best of 2017, and easily one of my favorite works of Leigh Bardugo. I loved every moment of it! The bottom line: A magical, dark volume of fantastic, original fairy and folk tales, The Language of Thorns is one of my favorites of the year! What a fantastic work! Next on deck: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell!