|The Language of Thorns|
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling's
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Age Group: YA
Source: Amazon (purchased)
If you are a fan of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy as well as her Six of Crows duology then this collection of short stories is a must read. The Language of Thorns contains six short stories that characters in the Grishaverse themselves would have grown up with. These are dark and twisted tales that leave the reader wanting more. Though there are some happy endings, not a single one is a ‘happily ever after’. Bardugo leaves readers unnerved and satisfied equally, with her version of a twisted ‘happy’ ending. Each of the short stories is also influenced by other classic fairy tales and books, some more familiar than others. Though there are elements of retelling's of these classic fairy tales The Language of Thorns remains exciting and refreshing. You need not have read Bardugo’s other books set in the Grishaverse world as these short stories can be read as a standalone too. What really bring all these stories to life is the artwork included on each page which changes and grows at the same pace as the written stories. The artwork brings the stories to life and makes the collection immersive and beautiful, alongside the talented words of Leigh Bardugo.
|Sara Kipin, illustrations|
I really enjoyed the first book in this collection. Part of the fun for this story, as well as for all the others too, was figuring out which classic fairy tales and books had influenced each retelling. I wont share all of the influences but the most obvious one was Beauty and the Beast. In Ayama and the thorn wood a young wolfish prince is born and as he grows older is hidden away only to escape and terrorise the kingdom. But a young courageous yet physically unattractive young woman is sent to negotiate with the beast. Will she be devoured or free the kingdom?
‘Coyotes surrounded the palace, howling and clawing at the walls, and tore the insides from a guard who had been sent to chase them away. Their frenzied baying hid the screams of the queen as she looked upon the creature that had slipped squalling from her womb. This little prince was shaped a bit like a boy but more like a wolf, his body covered in slick black fur from crown to clawed foot. His eyes were red as blood, and the nubs of two budding horns protruded from his head.’
There is one character other than Ayama that stood out for me in this story and that was the underestimated grandmother Ma Zil. I love this quote that at first might seem harsh and uncaring actually becomes the wisest and important by the end of the story:
‘Ayama’s brows still creased with worry, so her grandmother said, “Come now, Ayama. You know how the stories go. Interesting things only happen to pretty girls; you will be home by sunset.”
Do only interesting things happen to the prettiest girls, or the ones who get their feet a little muddy?
The too-clever fox
I also enjoyed this story too but did find the ending rather predictable. The obvious influence for this story was Little Red Riding Hood, the animals in The too-clever fox are hunted down and begin to disappear mysteriously one at a time. As with many of the stories in this collection do not underestimate a single woman! The too-clever fox in this story is named Koja and even though he is wily and cunning this is what leads to his downfall.
‘A lesser creature might have let his grief get the better of him. He might have taken to the hills and high places, thinking it wise to outrun death rather than try to outsmart it.’
Does being clever mean outsmarting a hunter, or falling prey to their smarter charms?
The witch of Duva
‘There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls.’
I neither liked nor disliked this story in the collection but for me it just didn’t stand out from some of the stronger ones. The witch of Duva is influenced by Hansel and Gretel and unlike some of the others sticks quite closely to the fairy tale of which it is influenced by. However, don’t be deceived just as all the stories in this collection the character and endings are never what they seem.
‘She lifted her spoon, but still she hesitated. She knew from stories that you must not eat at a witch’s table. But in the end, she could not resist.’
Who can resist the call of sugar in the deep dark woods?
This was one of the weaker stories in the collection for me, it wasn’t terrible, it just didn’t give me the same enjoyment as some of the others did. It was also the trickiest one to figure out the retelling influence for and had me confused for quite some time. I eventually had to look it up on the Grishaverse website because I could not figure it out with a little help.
Like many stories in this collection there is a beautiful girl and in Little Knife there are hundreds of desperate suitors to win her hand in marriage. There are three tasks given to all of the suitors when the girls father deems one man unsuitable for her daughters hand in marriage but who keeps passing the tests.
‘…remember that to use a thing is not to own it. And should you ever take a bride, listen closely to her questions.’
Would you rather a prince or a pauper, or the freedom from any man?
The soldier prince
I wasn’t too sure what to make of this story, I can’t say that I really enjoyed it but I certainly didn’t dislike it. I was definitely conflicted about my feelings after reading this short story. The soldier prince is most obviously influenced by The Nutcracker with the main character of this short story being the actual nutcracker himself. There is plenty of magic in this story and I certainly enjoyed reading from the perspective of the nutcracker and as a standalone short story I think I would have enjoyed it more. However, as a story in this twisted collection it just didn’t stand out and was one of the weaker ones for me.
“...Wanting is why people get up in the morning. It gives them something to dream of at night. The more I wanted, the more I became like them, the more real I became.” “I am perfectly real,” protested the nutcracker. The Rat King looked at him sadly.’
Do you show kindness to your toys by the magical chance they just might be watching and waiting to whisk you away?
When water sang fire
This is by far the longest story in the whole collection and the one that hides an incredible easter egg for the readers of Shadow and Bone. This story is influenced by The Little Mermaid and for me the most connected to the Grishaverse world. I enjoyed this story and the friendship between Ulla and Signy showing that with the power they possessed they became their own individual and joint threat. The youngest prince of the sildroher, the term used instead of mermaid, thinks to use the power of the girls for his own selfish gain, which leads to the beginning of a dangerous and alluring visit to the human world.
Would the power to sing free you or curse you?
‘In those days, the sildroher did not cower beneath the waves, afraid of sailors who might spy their smooth limbs and silver tails. […] Now their laws are different. They know the land is a place of danger. Yet they still long for the taste of mortal life. That is the problem with making a thing forbidden. It does nothing but build an ache in the heart.’
|Sara Kipin, illustrations|
Synopsis (From Goodreads)
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.
‘…she came to the banks of a stream, its surface so bright with starlight it was as if someone had peeled the rind from the moon like a piece of fruit and laid it in a gleaming ribbon upon the forest floor.’
‘Ayama did not want to take the knife, but she did. It was light as a dry seedpod. It seemed wrong that death should feel like nothing in her hands.’
“I can bear ugliness…I find the one thing I cannot live with is death.”
“…The trap is loneliness, and none of us escapes it. Not even me.”
‘She knew the idea of fire. She’d been taught about it, sung the word. But seeing it – so close and so alive… It was like having a little sun to keep all for herself.’
Serpent & Dove, A Court of Thorns and Roses, To Kill a Kingdom
What was your favourite story in this collection?
What other books would you recommend that are influenced by retelling's?
What do you value most in other people? In this collection the idea of beauty is challenged constantly and asks us as readers to question whether we value this more highly than anything else. More importantly, it suggests that beauty if abused can lead to corruption and the oppression of women.
If you've read the others books in the Grishaverse world, did you enjoy this collection, experiencing the stories that the characters themselves would have grown up with?