The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic
By Leigh Bardugo
Illustrated by Sara Kipin
Hardcover, 274 pages
Do you enjoy tales of horned beasts, sentient wooden soldiers and mermaids who can cause mass destruction with a song? Do you also enjoy tales of unlikely friendship, tormented families, and betrayal? How about fantastic illustrations and full-color text?
Then, like me, you’ll realize this is the book for you!
Hi, hello, yes, I’ve never actually read anything by Bardugo before this and I’ll admit I was drawn in by the gorgeous artwork and allure of fairytale retellings. Come on, colorful text! How could I resist? Even the dust jacket is a lovely textured and embossed paper, not the run-of-the-mill shiny stuff.
Don’t worry, there will be a Judging post on this in the future – I’ll spare you my endless gushing over the fabulous artwork, the detail on every page and thoughtful color scheme, for now.
On to the actual stories!
Ayama and the Thorn Wood – Ayama is a bit like Cinderella in that she’s overlooked by her parents and made to sleep by the hearth, clean up and generally keep quiet. She is overshadowed by her beautiful sister, but while the two don’t talk much, they still have a loving relationship. I think that’s an important detail and a nice change of pace from the usual vain, evil step-sisters most Cinderella types come equipped with. Amaya is an unlikely heroine and her solution to the problems in the stories was an unexpected one.
The Too-Clever Fox – I love animal fables. As with foxes in most fables, this one is clever, yet his confidence and appreciation for beauty lead him astray. This story was somewhat bittersweet and I liked that.
The Witch of Duva – I found this to be an original twist on Hansel and Gretel with a surprising villain. I enjoyed the witch character. The setting was cold and bleak, different from the usual almost-cheerful forest I typically imagine the witch to live in.
Little Knife – Impossible challenges required to gain the hand of a beautiful girl meets waterbending. What more needs to be said? Oh, probably that there’s a subtle female/female relationship!
The Soldier Prince – This reminded me of The Nutcracker, obviously, but also another tale I’ve read and can’t think of. I like that Bardugo combines elements from different tales into her retellings so that none are straight-forward. The latter half of this story went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and I appreciated that.
When Water Sang Fire – Hands down my favorite Little Mermaid interpretation of all time. A compelling heroine turned villain, a story of enemies turned friends turned enemies, mermaids, song magic and more mermaids. So good! I can see why the collection ended on this tail (HAHAH, get it? Guys? Get it?) and it was easily my favorite.
As you can probably tell from my repetitive, flattering adjectives, I enjoyed this collection. While one story was a clear stand-out for me, I had no issues with any of them and can highly recommend these fairytales, even if you aren’t familiar with the Grishaverse.