Review: The Language of Thorns
The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic, Leigh Bardugo
Published September 26, 2017
I came at little late to the Bardugo love-fest, reading Shadow and Bone around the time it first came out, but not returning to the Grishaverse until last year after hearing so many endearing reviews about Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. I went back and finished the Grisha Trilogy (Hello, Nikolai!) and went on to meet the gang in Ketterdam, eventually finding their stories to be capture my heart even more than Aline and Co.
Since then I’ve also read (and loved) Wonder Woman: Warbringer, and have seen Bardugo speak- which made me develop a new kind of affinity for this well-spoken and brilliant author. To read her fairy tales, especially the retellings, makes it clear that Bardugo believes that even in a world with magic, it is the deeply flawed desires of men and creatures alike that keeps the world from glowing with the kind of fantastical, glowing, too perfect worlds with come to know in the Disney style of storytelling. I think there’s plenty of room for both, and that no reader, no consumer of stories via movies or pages, should ever feel like it has to be one or the other- you can delight in dark origin stories like in “When Water Sang Fire” in this collection, and still love to watch Ariel comb her hair with a fork.
The six stories in this collection have a hint of Aesop’s fables, a hint of Brothers Grimm, and mostly the kind of details that have become familiar as we’ve learned more about the people and places that populate Kerch, Ravka, and Fierda, which is to say, this is an extra special delight for those who have visited the Grishaverse, and perhaps a source of some puzzlement for those who picked this book as their first introduction to Bardugo.
I loved the stories, but I also absolutely adored the illustrations- they built around the edges of the page as the story progressed, feeling like their own special additional narrative, culminating in full two page illustration at the end of each tale. Illustrator Sara Kipin has a style I really enjoy, and while I don’t want to give too much away, here is an example of the progression of the illustration.
Overall, I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of the world Leigh Bardugo has built, and to anyone who poured over Aesop’s Fables and the classic fairy tales, either as a child or as an adult- these retellings are sharp and full of insight.