The Language of Thorns (Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic) by Leigh Bardugo

In the year that Summer stayed too long, the heat lay upon the prairie with the weight of a corpse. The tall grass withered to ash beneath the unforgiving sun, and animals fell dead in the parched fields. That year, only the flies were happy, and trouble came to the queen of the western valley.

The Language of Thorns cover image

I must confess that I have had Six of Crows by this author sitting on my ‘to-read’ shelf for an embarrassingly long time (so many books, so little time…) so when I saw this short story collection I was pleased to have an introduction to Leigh Bardugo’s writing without committing myself to a long novel.

These stories are set in the universe of another of Bardugo’s works, the Shadow and Bone trilogy – which, incidentally, I will now also have to add to my to-read shelf – and they are quite enchanting. The stories read with the familiarity of the fairy tales many of us are raised on, but with a delicious twist of the macabre which makes them so much more engaging. This kind of ‘fairy tale plus’ story telling is right up my street, and I was drawn through each of the stories in this collection by the beautiful world-building and the careful pacing of the plots. The illustrations woven throughout are an extra bonus; they are lovely enough to look at in e-book format, as I did, and so I imagine the hard copy is a gorgeous thing.

There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls.

My two favourite stories were The Witch of Duva and When Water Sang Fire. The Witch of Duva has all the standard fairy-tale elements, including the wicked step-mother and the deep dark woods, but with a fantastic dark twist which gives a whole new spin to this Hansel and Gretel inspired tale. When Water Sang Fire is a stunningly beautiful and sad story which had my heart aching by the end.

In all, I enjoyed this collection hugely. I don’t know whether I would have gained more from being familiar with the author’s other works first, but I suspect not. As mentioned above, one of the things I most admired was the way the author has managed to create such wondrous, enchanting worlds for her tales in such a scant few words. The writing is lyrical and flowing, and a great endorsement for Leigh Bardugo’s novels, which I’ll be sure to get to that bit quicker now.

The sea folk grew more cautious, more wary of disaster, more frightened of the shore, and in time, much of their music faded too.

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