Title: The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Series Details: Standalone
Genre: Anthology, Fantasy, Retelling, Young Adult
Blurb from Goodreads:
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.
This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.
These are the kind of stories that made me a reader. And these kind of stories—delightfully dark, dangerous, and magical—are Leigh Bardugo’s specialty. There’s a pinch of darkness to her stories that really calls to that slightly villainous part of my heart. For this collection, Bardugo reimagined some of our well-loved fairytales, folklores, and myths, taking them into a darker path without totally losing the foundations of the original stories. It’s really awesome seeing these classic tales take a different shape. This time with less romance, more mystery, slightly creepy, always compelling, and definitely refreshing. And if you’re worried about these stories being predictable—because retellings most often are—don’t be. In fact, ready yourselves for some sick twists.
Ayama and the Thorn Wood – 4
“Sometimes the unseen is not to be feared and that those meant to love us most are not always the ones who do.”
Beasts don’t turn into handsome princes in this one. This opening story is a mashup of the Minotaur from the Greek mythology and A Thousand and One Nights with the slightest touch of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. But it has a completely different feel and a completely different outcome from what I expected. And that—going against the usual flow of fairy tales and deliberately breaking the tropes in the most creative way—is what made this story leave a lasting mark.
The Too-Clever Fox – 3.5
“Just because you escape one trap, doesn’t mean you will escape the next.”
I’ve known that Leigh Bardugo is a weaver of mind-blowing twists. And this one here is another proof of that. This is a fable about a sly, cunning, quick-witted fox named Koja, who can easily talk his way out of any dangerous situations. I’ve always loved the moral lessons that comes with fables—this one in particular reminds us that looks are oftentimes deceiving, that some people aren’t always what they seem, and that being confident is good but overconfidence could lead you to your demise.
“The trap is loneliness, and none of us escapes it.”
The Witch of Duva – 5
This is personally my favorite in this collection—a much darker retelling of Hansel and Gretel with a slight nod to Little Red Riding Hood. I’ve read this a couple of years back, and it’s still a five star the second time around. Trust Bardugo to make an ingenious short story that reads like a novel complete with phenomenal world-building, a multi-layered set of characters, and an intriguing plot-line in a matter of pages. And don’t even get me started with the twists! How she dealt with the evil stepmother and evil witch tropes was totally clever. If you’re not a Leigh Bardugo fan yet, this story will make you one.
So shut the window tight and make sure the latch is fastened. Dark things have a way of slipping in through narrow spaces.
Little Knife – 3.5
The subversion of fairy tale tropes is so on in this one. We have the unbelievably beautiful girl—Yeva—so beautiful that men lose their minds at the mere sight of her. We have the opportunistic father who claims to want the best for his daughter, but truly everything he did was for his own gain. We have the impossible tasks set for Yeva’s suitors. We have a handsome prince whom everybody expects to win the challenges. And lastly, we have the underdog—poor Semyon who has nothing but his friend, the river. But these men, even with all their love for Yeva, didn’t took time to listen to her or even tried to know what she wants for herself.
“Remember that to use a thing is not to own it.”
I didn’t love this story as much as I love the others before it but it’s still a good read. What makes it so good is how Bardugo tell it to her readers. She told it in a way that stayed so very close to my expectations so I was pretty confident I’ve got it all figured out. But no. Because Leigh Bardugo is anything but predictable.
The Soldier Prince – 3
This is simply the creepiest and the oddest tale in this collection. Inspired by The Nutcracker but without the “love broke the curse and transformed the ugly creature into a handsome prince” trope. Instead, this explores the ideas of knowing one’s self, knowing what you want the most, and firmly believing that you can be who you want to be.
“Wanting is why people get up in the morning. It gives them something to dream about at night. The more I wanted, the more I became like them, the more real I became.”
We all knew that Bardugo can make the most mysterious and silently dangerous villains in the darklands. And Droessen is nothing if not mysterious and silently dangerous. He’s one of the few things that held my interest. Unfortunately, the story got a bit confusing as it goes. Even though I think this is the most creative story in this collection, it wasn’t very impactful.
“This is the problem with even lesser demons. They come to your doorstep in velvet coats and polished shoes. They tip their hats and smile and demonstrate good table manners. They never show you their tails.”
When Water Sang Fire – 4
Music. Magic. Mermaids. Who doesn’t love those?
When Water Sang Fire feels like an origin story of the famous sea witch—Ursula. It is a tale filled with the wonders of friendship and the pain of betrayal.
But hope rises like water trapped by a dam, higher and higher, in increments that mean nothing until you face the flood.
Ulla was different. She’s an outcast, she’s more powerful than the others, and just like any other unforgettable villains, she had a good heart. What made her heart turn cold is what gave a unique flavor to this story. I love how Bardugo puts her characters in a situation where they’re forced to make sacrifices and make big decisions that will surely change their lives. Like choosing between friendship and ambition, between keeping the pureness of your heart or your friend’s happiness.
Overall, this is a damn enjoyable book. I love the Grishaverse, its heroes, and all its monsters. These are the kind of stories that I could imagine being shared beside the fire on a campsite at top of a mountain with a bunch of your friends. Read this and give yourself some good time.