"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." - From Goodreads
At a certain point, I think someone is going to call me out on repeating myself but some things bear (bare? Why can I never get that right) repeating: I love original fairy/folk tales. I also happen to love Leigh Bardugo, and the magic she created with the Grishaverse (See: my reviews of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom). When I heard she was going to be releasing a collection of short folk/fairy tales for this wonderful fantasy land, one that would be illustrated no less, I knew I had to buy it (what’s that you say? I already bought six books in October? I have two TBR shelves? I said I wouldn’t buy new books until I made a dent in the ones I already have?)
Everything about this collection was wonderful. Honestly, if you love the original darkness of fairy tales, the unflinching look at how the world actually is, and how endings aren’t always happy, and those that are aren’t necessarily as rosy as you might think, than you will love The Language of Thorns. Three of the stories in this collection (The Too-Clever Fox, The Witch of Duva, and Little Knife, also known as the "Ravkan" folktales) are available for free on Tor.com, sans illustrations of course. The other three are completely new and original, and are influenced by other areas of the Grishaverse.
One of my favourite things about these stories was the fact that I could imagine a child in Ravka, or Kerch, reading them or having it read to them by a parent. It fit so wonderfully into this world that Bardugo created that I wouldn’t be surprised if upon rereading the Grisha trilogy I stumble upon a mention of one of the Language of Thorns stories.
The writing itself is reminiscent of traditional or classic fairy tales, specifically in "" and "" when the narrator seems to be talking directly to you, the reader, with only the phrase 'once upon a time' missing. The narrator, always third person, weaves tales of love and magic and heartbreak, of darkness and greed and perseverance. They are not stories we haven't seen before, in one way or another, with many being very direct nodes to classics (such as Hansel and Gretel, the Nutcracker, and the Little Mermaid), but the settings and the players are different, and so you see those stories in a wholly new light, you see messages there that you might not have before.
They all, unsurprisingly, have lessons learned no-so-subtly tucked away at the end, ranging from "looks aren't everything" and "be careful what you wish for," but the overall theme of all the stories seemed to be the same: appearances can be deceiving. Now, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, is up to you.
I will be remiss if I didn't specifically talk about the illustrations bordering the pages of the stories. Each tale starts with one or two simple illustrations, which grow as the story grows, adding elements relating to it, small details and objects which are mentioned or referred to in the story, until the pages of the open book in front of you are framed with the story itself, culminating in a double page spread that depicts the climax of the story itself.
If you love twisted fairy tales, if you love new takes on old stories, if you like anything Bardugo has written, don't pass up on The Language of Thorns. Trust me. Oh, and if you *are* a fan and have read this, did you catch that subtle (apparent) cameo? Because I only realized it afterwards...and it was awesome.
Favourite Stories in the Collection: When Water Sang Fire and The Witch of Duva
(Some) Memorable Quotes:
You may recognize this quiet as you stand in what was once Suitors' Square, staring up at the grand facade of a crumbling palace and the little window high above the street, its casement carved with lilies. This is the sound of a heart gone silent.
And yet, though he could smile readily, charm easily, and play the part of a gentleman, he had never truly understood people or the workings of their steady-running but inconstant hearts.
"Who are you when no one picks you up to hold you? [...] When no one is looking at you, or whispering to you, who are you then?"
This is the problem with making a thing forbidden. It does nothing but build an ache in the heart.
But hope rises like water trapped by a damn, higher and higher, in increments that mean nothing until you face the flood.
If anyone has read The Language of Thorns, or any of Leigh Bardugo's work, let us know what you think in the comments below! Comments also open to further book/movie/show recommendations, anything you’d like to see reviewed, or general feedback. We’d love to hear what you have to say!