The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo (2017)
Short Story Collection | Fantasy | Folktales
“Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.
Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.
Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.
Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.”
pooled ink Review:
Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.
This collection includes six short stories all set within the Grishaverse. Three have previously been published to accompany the original Grisha Trilogy (recently renamed the Shadow and Bone Trilogy) and three are making their debut in this book.
Something I really loved about these stories is that they had origins from all over the Grishaverse, places we’ve heard about and some we’ve read about in Bardugo’s stories. And something about these being folktales rather than a random smattering of novellas really brings depth to the Grishaverse that Bardugo has created and adds a layer of reality and possibility to it.
Regardless, I found each and every one of the stories shared in this book wonderfully written, creative, entertaining, and vaguely familiar with a clever twist.
Ayama and the Thorn Wood
“When a lonely girl spins a tale for a monster, the ending may surprise them both.”
A Zemeni tale, this one tells a story where mercy is taught, where beauty does not always mean goodness, and where a girl no one cared much about found the courage to face a monster and had the cleverness to free him. The stories Ayama shares to the monster are lovely, set up with familiar or predictable endings, but being Ayama their endings are altered into something much more reasonable and inevitably satisfying.
The Too-Clever Fox
“In Ravka, just because you avoid one trap, it doesn’t mean you’ll escape the next.”
This story, along with the following two, is Ravkan in origin. This one featuring a fox that was very clever, but not particularly wise. It made me think of many folktales I’ve read from Native American tribes with the clever fox or wolf or coyote outsmarting his enemies…until this tale where the clever fox finds himself quite caught in a snare.
The Witch of Duva
“There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls… or so the story goes. But it’s just possible that the danger may be a little bit closer to home.”
You might find this tale similar to that of “Hansel & Gretel” and you’d be right. But if you think you know the ending then you’d be very wrong indeed. We learn that evil can wear many different faces, some beautiful, some ugly, some sharp, and some kind. We learn that sometimes harshness is a cloaked form of love and that sometimes what we think we know is not quite true at all.
“A beautiful girl finds that what her father wants for her and what she wants for herself are two different things.”
In this tale we get to witness great Grisha magic, and we also witness what we all thought was rather absurd in our own fairytales. The Duke puts forth three tasks to win his beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage, something she found nonsensical, and through the endeavors and pleadings of a lowly Squallor we are taught a lesson in pride, greed, and power. I particularly liked the ending to this tale and how the daughter, Yeva, found her freedom.
The Soldier Prince
“On a snowy night, a stranger comes knocking to offer you your heart’s desire—but no gift comes without a price.”
This one comes from Kerch and is another tale that you may find very familiar. It is a new take on the famous Nutcracker story and it pulls its words into something deeper. We learn about what makes a person, what is love, what it is to want something for yourself. The world makes demands of us, our families, our friends, our societies, even strangers, but until you decide for yourself what you want you will only ever be a toy, played with by others and their forceful desires.
When Water Sang Fire
“A young mermaid with a powerful gift finds more than she bargained for on land.”
The final tale in this book is Fjerdan and tells a story that might be a prequel to “The Little Mermaid.” I wasn’t entirely sure at all what to expect from this one or where it might go but as it wound tighter and tighter I grew grim with what I feared would be the ending. It’s a story about ambition, friendship, music, and loyalty. It shows how actions and choices can steal the breath of innocents, raise gardens from song, turn innocence into vengeance, and twist wrongs into rights.
I absolutely loved reading these tales and oh my, the cover (both the dust jacket and what’s beneath) is utterly gorgeous! But not only is the outside beautiful but the inside as well! The gradual progression of the drawings bordering each page of a story is brilliant and the illustrations are all so lovely!
Each story is told in a voice I could easily hear standing alongside those of the famous Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. And similarly these tales are much darker and more grisly than what can be found on the Disney classics shelves. What I really enjoyed I think was how Bardugo took inspiration from the world she’s crafted in her books and inspiration from fairytales handed down in our own world and merged the two, instilling vaguely familiar tales with a much fuller story and deeper message. As beloved as fairytales are one must admit that they are often a bit nonsensical, predictable, and seem to only skim the surface. These tales however are short but well developed and thought out, brimming with a relatable authenticity that one can either identify with or at least grasp its lessons.
If you’re a fan of fairytales, folktales, wives tales, or the Grishaverse, then I definitely recommend you grab a copy of this beautiful book!
P.S. My favorite, in case you’re wondering, is “Ayama and the Thorn Wood.” Although I really loved each and every story told in this book, that one stuck out to me the most 🙂
Purchase here: The Language of Thorns
Continue into the Grishaverse…
The Grisha Trilogy
The Six of Crows Duology
Meet Leigh Bardugo!
Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the Six of Crows Duology and the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, as well as the upcoming Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Aug 2017) and The Language of Thorns (Sept 2017).
She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.