The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic
by Leigh Bardugo
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.
Considering so many fantasy novels are set in worlds entirely different to our own, it makes sense that these worlds would have their own fairy tales, fables and myths. In The Language of Thorns, Leigh Bardugo introduces the tales that the characters in her Grishaverse would have grown up with – or at least be familiar with.
In these six stories beautifully illustrated by Sara Kipin, Bardugo introduces tales for several of the nations from the Grishaverse. There’s one story each from Novyi Zem, Fjerda and Kerch, and then three from Ravka, and I loved how each of the tales felt a little different depending on where they were from.
The Zemeni tale Ayama and the Thorn Wood is ultimately a hopeful tale about how to tell the difference between men and monsters – and who should be cast with such labels – while the Fjerdan tale When Water Sang Fire is quite an eerie, melancholic tale that you could imagine someone like Matthias being told as a child. Then there’s the Kerch tale The Soldier Prince which, to me, summed up so many of the problems the people in Ketterdam face in a world where the wealthy profit and the poor are their playthings. We mustn’t forget the Ravkan tale The Too-Clever Fox – it’s easy to imagine a young Nikolai being enamoured by this story and trying to emulate the spirit of it as he grew.
As is to be expected from a collection of fairy tales, a lot of the tales in this collection mirror our own stories. Ayama and the Thorn Wood has hints of Little Red Cap and Beauty and the Beast, When Water Sang Fire has The Little Mermaid vibes, The Soldier Prince is very similar to The Nutcracker and my favourite story, The Witch of Duva, had hints of Hansel and Gretel. This all makes sense, though, when the Grishaverse itself mirrors countries and cultures from our own world, and I definitely felt like Bardugo made these stories her own.
In fact it can’t be a coincidence that Ayama and the Thorn Wood, the opening tale in the collection, has a recurring theme of rewriting fairy tales with more realistic endings, which the rest of this collection then does. Bardugo turns pretty girls and evil stepmothers on their heads beautifully, and if I’d loved all of the stories equally this easily could have been a five star collection for me.
I didn’t dislike any of the stories, but I certainly loved some more than others and The Witch of Duva was my favourite by far. I loved the way that story invites us to think differently about fairy tales.
If you’re a Grishaverse fan then you’ll love this collection – it was lovely to read a short story collection from a fantasy world that wasn’t about the characters from that world, but was about the characters they themselves grew up with – but I think this collection could be a great introduction to this world, too. It’ll definitely give you an idea of Bardugo’s darker side!