Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...

Mother Bardugo’s Tales

The stories in Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic are both familiar and fresh.

Mother Bardugo’s Tales

BOOK REPORT for The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

Cover Story: Watch Yourself
The Most Empowering: “Ayama and the Thorn Wood”
The Most Familiar: “The Witch of Duva,” “The Soldier Prince”
The Most Haunting: “When Water Sang Fire”
Bonus Factor: Illustrations
Break Glass In Case Of: Feeling Nostalgic for the Stories of Your Youth (If You Lived in the Grishaverse)

Cover Story: Watch Yourself

The thorns on this cover are NOT messing around, and I really love how evocative the brambles are of the book’s content. Also, the color combination is delightful, and goes well with the two-color printing in the interior.

This is definitely a book I’d display full cover outward on my bookshelves.

The Deal:

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic is a compilation of six stories from Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse; three are Ravkan and one each are Zemeni, Kerch, and Fjerdan. These are the fairy tales that the characters from Bardugo’s other novels set in this universe (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, The Six of Crows Duology) might have heard as children.

The stories are at times familiar, echoing stories we mere humans heard and/or read when we were little, but the twists Bardugo includes in each, and their settings, make them feel very unique.

The Most Empowering: “Ayama and the Thorn Wood”

The first story in the collection is a Zemini story about Ayama, the “ugly” and unwanted second daughter of a peasant family who’re always looking for ways to get richer without actually doing any work. It involves a beastly prince who’s hidden away in a labyrinth under his royal parents’ castle, and a quest that no one else is brave enough to undergo. Ayama is a true fairy tale heroine, and not of the old school Disney type.

(I love me some early Disney princesses as much as the next person, but there’s something to be said about a story in which a princess saves herself in the end.)

The Most Familiar: “The Witch of Duva,” “The Soldier Prince”

The “Witch of Duva,” a Ravkan tale, tells the story of a young girl who runs away from home to escape a step-mother who she believes is a monster. It’s reminiscent of the story of “Hansel and Gretel,” but the ending to Bardugo’s version is more disturbing and yet more befitting of the plot of both tales.

In her acknowledgements, Bardugo mentions “The Velveteen Rabbit” as having influenced the Kerch story “The Soldier Prince,” but to me it’s much more reminiscent of The Nutcracker. It, too, however, has a conclusion that feels “more right” to my adult sensibilities than how The Nutcracker typically wraps up.

The Most Haunting: “When Water Sang Fire”

“When Water Sang Fire,” the Fjerdan story of Ulla, the sildroher (mermaid) with the magical voice, has hints of “The Little Mermaid,” but is a wholly different story than the one of the Disney cartoon or the original fairy tale. I won’t say much more as to not spoil it for any of you who might read this in the future, but the ending left me somewhat uneasy, in a good way.

Truth be told, many of the stories in The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic left me with a similar feeling, but that’s part of why I liked the collection so much, and is much more fitting for these sort of folktales than happily ever afters.

Bonus Factor: Illustrations

Sara Kipin’s illustrations grace almost every page in this book, and—in addition to being gorgeous—they fit the feel of the stories so well. They also become more detailed and more revealing of the stories’ plots as the pages turn, which is a really cool companion to the actual words. A few times I went back and looked at the changes after I finished reading and it was neat to see plot points foreshadowed in the illustrations. (More attentive readers might notice these hints before the story ends, but I got too wrapped up in the stories themselves to fully pay attention to the art until after.)

Check out more of Kipin’s work on her Tumblr.

Break Glass In Case Of: Feeling Nostalgic for the Stories of Your Youth (If You Lived in the Grishaverse)

I love me a good, somewhat sinister, fairy tale/folklore story, so the six stories in The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic were right up my alley. I’m also a huge fan of Bardugo’s Grishaverse, and it was fun to revisit the world from a completely different perspective than we did in The Shadow and Bone Trilogy or The Six of Crows Duology. I’m hoping Bardugo continues to revisit this world in as many shapes and forms as her imagination can come up with, because I’ll always look forward to adventuring there.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Imprint, and got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
K