Book Review: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

The Language of Thorns
Leigh Bardugo


Short Story Collection
Young Adult
Library Book


(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.

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.

This book is a collection of six shorter stories, which as a result I will be reviewing each individual story and then ending with an overall analysis of the book. Let’s get right into it!

Ayama and the Thorn Woods –

I think if any of the other stories would have been first in this collection, I may not have been as invested in continuing with the stories. This, however, set it up nicely and allowed me to see what this collection would be. This story was truly what I needed when I read it! I was taken in by this girl who kept going back to this monster for her people, even though her people pretty much treated her like garbage. Then when I arrived at the ending and got the little bit of twist you can from a short story I was floored. I felt like I had been actually transported into a magical realm that I wanted to live within for the rest of my days. I don’t gush like this easily, but this was pretty much the most perfect story that I could read in any short story collection. There was just so much right with this particular story. If you don’t want to read all of this book, I would still recommend going somewhere and reading this first story. Fake like you are going to buy it and walk into a bookstore and read as much of it as you can. Remember your place, go back tomorrow or something! Just read this first story! You won’t regret it.

The Too-Clever Fox –

If this had been the first story in the collection, I would have definitely not continued on with it. This is not to say that this is a “bad story”, as I don’t believe there are any in the world like that. There are just those that speak to us and those that do not. Every story has an audience, no matter what size that audience is. This one, to me, was just not as enjoyable as that first story, but it is still a well-written one. It revolves around a fox that basically is a runt and involves him trying to help a little girl. As the story progresses though and you near the end you are taken on a journey that was somewhat predictable to me. I guessed that little twist pretty early on in this, but I still found it overall enjoyable and a good addition to the collection. If I was to say you can skip any story within the collection without feeling bad about it, I would say it was this one.

The Witch of Duva – 

So I am writing this review some time after I read the collection and I have to say I had to go read some reviews of the book to remember this one. I remembered all the others, but this one for some reason didn’t stick with me. It is sad to because it was available to read for free online by the publisher and Bardugo, so I went back over it and remembered it. You can read it here. What makes it sad is that I actually remember rather liking the story. This is basically a Hansel and Gretel reimagining, but with a much deeper focus on the Gretel character. Also while there is a witch in the story, she is portrayed in a much less sinister light than what we would think of this character from the original telling. This story and its conclusion are gut-wrenching. It makes you think that one person is horrible, only to discover it is not all what it seems to be. This is another one of the stories in the collection, even minus my own forgetfulness, that I would highly recommend.

Little Knife –

Have you ever read a story and went “maybe you are overdoing it with your message” to the writer, in your own head of course. That is what I did with this story. I had to take a day break from reading the collection after finishing this one, just to cleanse the palate a bit. I thought Bardugo pushed a bit in this one, especially with so many strong messages in the previous stories. This story is about a man who gets help from a river to try to get the hand of a beautiful girl, whose father tasks the man with various well tasks. The story ends with a twist, like all the stories here. The message got a little heavy handed and did not feel as well executed as the other stories within the collection. This and “The Too-Clever Fox” are the two I could see most people skipping over and not feeling poorly about it. I can, however, see a lot of females needing to read this book, so there is that as well. There is a message that really speaks to females about how you have to value yourself and what you bring to the table. The message was good, but just the execution comes off a little heavy-handed. 

The Soldier Prince – 

I was initially taken in with this story. I was interested in this clockmaker and what he story would be, but then the story moved away from him to one of his creations. It lost me a bit when it did this. I wanted it to follow the other character that began the story, but alas Bardugo took us on a different ride completely. The story is basically “The Nutcracker” retold and reimagined. I have seen this done before, such as with “The Care Bears: Nutcracker.” There were parts, like the rat king, that I enjoyed a lot. I found myself at times wishing this one was over, but then I would get sucked back in for some reason. By the end, I felt that this was a pretty neutral story. Neither bad, but not overly good either. Just meh. In a short story collection, I sometimes find myself appreciative of those meh stories though. They give the collection a more fleshed outness that I like. This feels appropriate to be in this collection. I think it served the purpose it needed for the collection. I would not skip over this one, but realize that you may find yourself wanting to take a breather from it.

When Water Sang Fire – 

This is a “The Little Mermaid” type of reimaging/prequel. I was definitely here for this one though. It is about 2 mermaids that find out when they sing together magic happens. From this they become relatively popular and are taken to the surface by the prince. While on the surface though one half of the 2 girls discovers that mermaid hearts are just as treacherous as the heart of mankind! I loved all the characters within this story. Allegedly there is a character in this from some of her other books, but I do not have any context for this. I can say, however, that I enjoyed this and I would love to see this character revised at some point in another story. I would say this was by and far my favorite within the entire collection because I found myself reading it all in one sitting. I found it to be interesting and engaging. I found it to just be a beautiful done tale and I was happy that it was the one that ended out the collection. I feel that the bookends of tales were the two best and I am very happy with their overall placement in the collection.

Overall Analysis – 

As a collection, this book was perfection. Each story was a fairy tale and beautifully written, even if a few left me ready for the next one to begin. To only have 2 stories where I was like okay I don’t really love this felt nice. I can definitely see the perks of reading this and I would highly recommend this volume for others to read. You do not have to have read her other books to appreciate this one, since some of the stories are technically set in that universe. I found an appreciation for the way that Bardugo writes and as a reader I appreciated how she was able to draw me in to each story, even though they were each vastly different from each other. I also enjoyed that there was a brief explanation within that explained where she got some of the ides and how she drew inspiration from them. I enjoy seeing some behind the scenes type of information, especially for a short story collection by a singular author. If you love her other works, I definitely feel that this is one you should add to your collection. You won’t be disappointed. I would also recommend this to people that want stories that will keep you engaged. This will! I know it was one that I enjoyed and I definitely want to add my own copy of this to my shelves, since I read this from the library. Definitely worth your time!

This book has some beautiful illustrations contained within it by Sara Kipin. Here are a few:

Leigh Bardugo is also known for the above and below book series! I have not gotten around to reading these, but based on my feelings about this book I am considering it!


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