The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic is a short story anthology by Leigh Bardugo, author of the wildly popular Six of Crows and Grisha series. In this anthology, she dives back into the beloved universe to bring the readers six new tales of dark, spell-binding creatures and people in this magical, Russian-inspired world.
It’s great for old and new lovers of this universe, and you certainly don’t have to be acquainted with her other writing to read it.
Average Rating: 4.25 stars
This anthology as a whole is so wonderful. I usually have a very hard time trying to get through anthologies and I usually end up quitting by the fourth story. But, whether it was because IT’S LEIGH BARDUGO or because it’s just Leigh Bardugo, I actually managed to finish an anthology for once.
The entire set of stories worked really well together an maintained a consistent atmosphere, something I don’t see very often. I loved how there was consistency in all the stories through voice and mood, and everything just ended up working really well together. The only criticism I have for the work as a whole was that the last short story ended up being considerably longer than the previous ones, around the size of two. I found this a little weird and that one ended up being longer than I expected, although it didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.
I do have to say, after all the hype about how deliciously dark the stories were, it wasn’t as dark as I thought it’d be. Honestly, I was hoping for gruesomeness and the deaths of multiple characters that you thought you were getting attached to, but the stories were pretty benign. Instead of getting the original Cinderella story where the stepsisters cut off their heels, I got the Disney version, but with a darker lens and a heavier focus on the stepfamily. Not necessarily gruesome or twisted, but just dark.
Also, oh my gosh the illustrations were GORGEOUS. A huge round of applause for Sara Kipin because the illustrations really brought the story to life and made it rich and beautiful and even more wonderful. (JUST LOOK AT IT BELOW!) It was so cool to quickly flip through the pages and see different scenes growing on the margins which would fill into a full sized illustration at the end of each story. Everything was printed in shades of maroon or teal ink and overall it was so lovely to look at. The illustrations themselves deserve all the stars possible.
I’m individually rating each of the six short stories, and so I’ll leave my quick input for each below!
Amaya and the Thorn Wood – 5 stars
This was probably my favorite of all the stories, and despite my hoping throughout the entire story, Amaya didn’t end up dead (whoops). I really loved her though (which explains why I thought she was going to die) and she made a great main character who actually kept her morals. This was definitely one of the less atmospheric of the stories, but I just really enjoyed it overall.
The Too-Clever Fox – 3.5 stars
This one was one of my least favorite, but it was still very enjoyable and an interesting read. There’s mostly animals as the main characters, and what I felt was missing from the piece was the emotion. I wasn’t as moved as I was in the last piece, and maybe this was because it focused on animals, or maybe it was just because. It still held the atmosphere, but I wasn’t as attached to this story. I did think it had a cute, fable-esque message attached to it, which was nice.
The Witch of Duva – 4.5 stars
This was probably one of the most dark and gruesome of the stories (although it really isn’t that morbid) and the plot really appealed to me. I liked the message because there were some very interesting twists and turns, and you think the characters are going to go one way, but then they end up going the other and it catches you by surprise. I do have to note that there wasn’t very much dialogue and sometimes it felt like things weren’t really happening, but I think Bardugo did a great job just keeping it flow well.
Little Knife – 4.5 stars
I liked the message in this story a lot, and it was definitely one of my other favorites and one of the most memorable. I really liked how it addressed respect and entitlement and greed and dealt with how people try to take advantage of nature and it was just really good overall. I wish there was more in this one, and I do think that the female main character could have acted a little sooner. But Little Knife was such a boss OMG.
The Soldier Prince – 4 stars
This one was good! Not my favorite, but not my least favorite. It was interesting and pretty and magical and probably one of the most atmospheric (and also the most steampunk rather than fantasy) and I thought it was very nice on the outside. I just kind of wished there was more meaning behind it to make it have that added depth that would have made it really enjoyable. I still found it to be an entertaining read.
When Water Sang Fire – 4 stars
This was the story that I mentioned was considerably longer than the others and it kind of threw me off by the end. It would have thrown me off wherever I was in this anthology, but I felt that I had finally adjusted to the short story format and transient characters by the time I got to this 60+ page story compared to the other ones that were closer to 30+ Nevertheless, it was still a good read and was magical and had sirens coming to land and all sorts of courtly machinations.
I do have a short point about part of the message portrayed because I didn’t like how Ulla assumed that Signey would be destroyed if Roffe broke her heart, which although being important to the storyline, didn’t sit very well with me. Why can’t she assume that Signey is strong and will be able to get over heartbreak? Why does she look upon another female with such a weak lens? I wanted her to have more faith in her best friend instead of feeling like her friend’s entire being was hinged upon one guy. Ugh.
Have you read The Language of Thorns? What did you think? I totally encourage everyone to just go and pet a copy in the bookstore because it’s so gorgeous, even if you can’t purchase a copy.