Title: The Language of Thorns (2017)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Illustrator: Sara Kipin
Publisher: Orion Children’s Group
Read: 27th – 28th January 2018
Genre: young-adult; fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“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, no. 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 of the Grishverse. This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them beautifully illustrated with art by Sara Kiplin that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.” (Synopsis from the publisher)
“Bad fates do not always follow those who deserve them.”
As a huge fan of the Grishaverse, it seemed downright necessary that I read The Language of Thorns and its format makes for a very compelling case. Beautifully presented and illustrated, the book contains an illustration on every single page which grows a little bit every time you turn a page and becomes the full-illustration to match the story at the very end of the tale. Little touches like this convinced me that this isn’t a vanity project, or a way of cashing in on the enormous popularity of Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows duology, but rather a lavish addition to the Grisha universe which helps to enrich any die-hard reader’s knowledge of the cultures and people who inhabit the countries depicted in the two series.
“This goes to show you that sometimes the unseen is not to be feared and that those meant to love us most are not always ones who do.”
In The Language of Thorns, Bardugo weaves fairytales from Novyi Zem, Ravka, Kerch, and Fjerda, illustrating the different attitudes and cultural perspectives of each country’s peoples through these imaginative retellings of some familiar (and not so familiar) fairytale scenarios. What these stories share is a dark and sinister atmosphere, reminiscent of the Grimm brothers, and each tale shows that although the cultures and countries may be very different, each culture uses the medium of the fairytale in order to highlight morals and social mores which aren’t to be flouted, or bad things might very well befall you!
“This is the problem with making a thing forbidden. It does nothing but build an ache in the heart.”
My favourite of the fairytales was probably The Too-Clever Fox, a short tale about the eponymous fox who relies on his wit and charm to talk his way out of many a trap, or at least tries to. Bardugo makes clear connections in the Grishaverse between said fox and a certain other charming rascal by the name of Sturmhond, so obviously I was going to enjoy this Ravkan story. I could also see hints of the darker implications of otherwise-beloved fairytales such as the Little Mermaid present in the final story (though it’s so long it could be a novella!) from Fjerda, ‘When Water Sang Fire’, and it had an overtly moralising feel to it as such stories often do. It’s more than a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’, it’s ‘be careful of the price of ambition and what you’re willing to do because it will ruin you’. The Kerch offering, ‘The Soldier Prince’, is also possibly one of the single creepiest things I’ve ever read. I’m not a huge fan of nutcrackers and porcelain dolls and toys of that ilk as it is, but after reading about the Soldier Prince who becomes life-size and integrates within the society, I felt rather alarmed at the prospect. It left a wonderful sort of foreboding ending which made me really shiver, despite the utterly fantastical nature of the tale.
“You know how the stories go. Interesting things only happen to pretty girls; you will be home by sunset.”
Ultimately, Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns makes for a non-obligatory addition to the Grishaverse that I would nevertheless heartily recommended for any fans of the Grisha trilogy or Six of Crows duology because of the enchanting stories being woven by the combination of Leigh Bardugo’s captivating words and Sara Kipin’s beautiful illustrations.
“This is the problem with even lesser demons. They come to your doorstep in velvet coats and polished shoes. They tip their hats and smile and demonstrate good table manners. They never show you their tails.”