Review: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
I’ve been resisting picking up The Language of Thorns since it was released, as I haven’t yet read the Six of Crows duology and was worried about getting spoilers. For anyone who has been avoiding it for the same reason, fear no more! The Language of Thorns might be part of the Grishaverse, but these twisted retellings of classic tales stand completely apart from the other Grisha novels which have been released.
It’s helpful to have read at least Shadow and Bone so that you’re familiar with the world, but it’s not an insurmountable challenge to understand if you haven’t. The original stories are so instantly recognisable that you’ll fall head over heels in love with them even if you aren’t familiar with some of the unique language used throughout.
Here are my thoughts on each of the short stories (as you can see, I had a couple of favourites!).
Ayama and the Thorn Wood (5/5): When the second prince is born his parents are horrified to discover that their son is a monster. The king builds catacombs beneath the palace where their wolfish son can roam freely, but when he escapes and starts slaying cattle, the king bribes the public with riches and land as a reward for slaying the beast.
Enter Ayama, who doesn’t slay the beast, instead distracts him with stories – honest twists on the sugary sweet fairy tales she was told as a young girl.
I absolutely loved this opening tale and I’m genuinely considering purchasing the collection so that I can revisit it to my heart’s content. The three stories Ayama tells the wolf are just as entertaining as the main plot, and I found myself rushing ahead, eager to see what would happen next.
The Too-Clever Fox (5/5): The Too-Clever Fox tells the tale of a famous hunter who comes to town, dragging his sister along with him and forcing her to wear the pelts of the animals that he kills. But all is not as it seems, and the too-clever fox might not be clever enough to make it out of this tale alive…
I’d heard good things about The Too-Clever Fox, as it was released before this collection, and I can see what all the fuss is about. I saw the twist coming, but I thought it was a very modern and clever way to switch up the tale.
The Witch of Duva (4/5): A play on Hansel and Gretel in which the stepmother might not be as evil as first assumed. I didn’t love this quite as much as the first two stories, as it seemed a bit directionless and the end of the story was a bit too abrupt.
Little Knife (4/5): The tale of Little Knife is the most closely linked to the world of the Grisha, telling the story of a Tidemaker who uses his powers to attempt to win the hand of the princess. I’m not sure what it was about this one – maybe the sudden shift into a more Grisha-based tale threw me off, because I struggled to get into this one and it didn’t seem to flow as nicely as the other five tales.
The Soldier Prince (3/5): The Soldier Prince was my least favourite of the stories, combining the Nutcracker with Pinocchio in a very creepy way. Something about it felt unfinished, though, and it was the least satisfying story in the collection. That being said, the final illustration was by far the most beautiful – I could have looked at the intricate detail for hours!
When Water Sang Fire (5/5): An origin story for The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula, telling the story of Ulla – a sildroher who could sing beautifully, but didn’t seem to belong with her fellow merfolk. I had a tear in my eye at the end of this story, but I’m still not sure whether that was because my eyes were dry from reading so quickly or from the emotion that Bardugo provoked!
My actual rating for this collection as a whole was 4.3 stars, which unfortunately had to be rounded down to 4. This is the reason Goodreads needs to introduce half star ratings!
I highly recommend giving this collection a try, particularly if you haven’t read any of Bardugo’s other work. It’s a beautiful introduction to her writing, and the soothing pace makes the stories perfect for reading aloud. I read the collection to my daughter, and she seemed to enjoy it (despite being only a few months old!)
If you’re interested in learning more about The Language of Thorns, check it out on Goodreads. If you decide to buy a copy, please consider using my Amazon affiliate link: I’ll earn a few pennies from your purchase. Thank you!