Title: The Language of Thorns
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Series? Spin-Off of the Grishaverse
Disclaimer: I received this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.
The Language of Thorns is an enchanting collection of folklores from Leigh Bardugo’s richly embellished Grishaverse. Aside from the pleasure of reading stories your favourite Grishaverse characters would have grown up hearing, the beguiling tales within this collection will captivate readers with their subversive narrative and beautiful composition. In these stories, you will find human truths hidden amongst dangerous beasts and courageous maidens – simply put, this is fairy tales at its finest.
We have all grown up reading or hearing fairy tales, we know their rhythm as intimately as our own heartbeat. The stories within The Language of Thorns retains that familiar rhythm of a well-loved and oft-told fairy tale, yet they also manage to invent delightful and transformative twists. While Leigh Bardugo never flinches from portraying the cruelty and savagery of the Grishaverse in these tales, she doesn’t shy from infusing the stories with courage and optimism either. The writing throughout this collection is consistently lyrical and gorgeous, it’s one of those book that begs to be savoured on repeat.
I feel each of the six stories within deserve their own mini-review, so here goes.
Ayama and the Thorn Wood
“You know how the stories go. Interesting things only happen to pretty girls; you will be home by sunset.”
The Language of Thorns starts with a triumphant beginning through an exquisite tale about an unmemorable girl and a beastly prince. Composed with perfect symmetry from beginning to end, this story was a tribute to all of my favourite fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast and 1001 Nights – given a mesmerising and otherworldly twist thanks to Leigh Bardugo’s enthralling writing. It has all of the most powerful elements of enduring fairy tales: bargains and betrayals, monsters and maidens, along with three sacrifices and an enchanted wood. Within this story, readers will watch as Ayama dismantles the endings of well-known stories – just as Leigh Bardugo deconstructs and reinvent fairy tales with this collection.
The Too-Clever Fox
“I can bear ugliness, I find the one thing I cannot live with is death.”
In this tale, we find an unlikely hero in Koja the fox. Born as the runt of the litter, Koja has been evading death since his first moments in this world using his razor-sharp wit and quick-tongue. Time and again, we see Koja outwit various predators of the forest, before he meets his match in the form of a human hunter. This story will delight everyone with an appreciation for the tricksters if folklore. Leigh Bardugo also confirmed that Koja’s story is Kaz Brekker’s favourite, all the more reasons to check it out as soon as possible.
The Witch of Duva
“Dark things have a way of slipping in through narrow spaces.”
This story encapsulates everything I love about this collection. It’s atmospheric, feminist, and has a way of twisting your expectations and challenging stereotypes. If you have ever felt an inexpressible dissatisfaction at the way fairy tales portray stepmothers, witches, and damsels in distress – this story will be an absolute revelation. Within this tale you’ll find danger and darkness in amongst enchanted pastries and lessons in sorcery.
“You may recognise this quiet… This is the sound of a heart gone silent.”
Little Knife tells of the fall of Velisyana, a once prosperous city renowned for the beauty of the Duke’s daughter, Yeva Luchova. This tale gathers all of the familiar elements from age-old fairy tales: a competition for the hand of a fair maiden, a trio of impossible tasks, and an impoverished suitor challenging a beautiful prince. The delightful twists and turns within Little Knife transforms these tired tropes into a story that celebrates female agency and identity. Leigh Bardugo has also revealed on Twitter that Inej and Nina would be most likely to bond over Little Knife.
The Soldier Prince
“My life began with wanting something for myself.”
The Soldier Prince is a folktale hailing from the island nation of Kerch, and like its birthplace it’s rich in atmosphere and grim undertones. The Nutcracker is given new life, along with a dozen new layers of subtleties within this new story. Instead of exploring the transformative power of love, as the original tale once did – The Soldier Prince tackles the idea of artificial consciousness and human desires. Out of all the stories, this one was the most visually imaginative, and the ending is sure to leave readers unsettled.
When Water Sang Fire
“A thousand desperate wishes have been spoken on these shores, and in the end they are all the same: Make me someone new.”
As I am a huge fan of dark retellings of The Little Mermaid, I found this story satisfying and very easy to love. It poses questions on the cost of magic, the sacrifices we make for our ambitions, and the price we pay to earn societal acceptance. Filled with blood, flames, and treachery – this tale will appeal to fans of villains everywhere (especially fans of a certain black-clad figure from the original Grisha trilogy). I learned via twitter than When Water Sang Fire was Leigh’s favourite tale to write out of the whole collection, and you can definitely tell through the confidence in the writing – it’s endlessly quotable.
Along with the gorgeous tales, The Language of Thorns also comes fully decked out with stunning and intricate illustration by Sara Kipin on every page. These unravel and become increasingly decorative as the tale progresses, revealing an artistic and thematic representation of the story. It’s absolutely breathtaking, so treat yourself and get the physical copy of this book. The audiobook narrated by Lauren Fortgang is also excellent, and an apt way to experience this collection of fairy tales.
Have you read this latest addition to the Grishaverse? Which tale was your favourite (mine is Ayama and the Thorn Wood, in case it wasn’t abundantly obvious).