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“The Language of Thorns” by Leigh Bardugo

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Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse books catapulted her to the top of various bestseller lists. With the collection The Language of Thorns, she deepens the setting by presenting folktales from Novyi Zem, Ravka, Kerch, and Fjerda.

The concept of this book is wonderful. Rather than just giving us additional short stories from the Grishaverse, Bardugo has chosen to present stories that people living in the Grishaverse would tell. Storytelling is a universal human constant, so giving a fictional culture their own folklore and mythology is a great way to make them feel more real.

The execution easily lives up to the promise of the concept. While the term “fairy tales” often conjures up the image of stories for children, the stories presented here are far from simplistic. While some of them do have morals, those morals reflect the complexity of an adult’s world. Characters in the first tale, “Ayama and the Thorn Wood,” repeatedly exhort each other to “speak truth.” Despite their inclusion of spells and monsters, these stories speak truth about the messy, wondrous, and sometimes terrifying world we live in.

Another notable aspect of The Language of Thorns is the absolutely gorgeous illustrations. Illustrator Sara Kipin creates stunning images in shades of red and blue to accompany each story. The full illustrations appear at the end of each story, with individual elements expanding across the margins of each page to lead up to them. The illustrations for “The Soldier Prince” were especially intricate and impressive. I highly recommend reading a physical copy of this book to get the full effect of the illustrations.

C.S. Lewis famously said, “When I was a child, I read fairy tales in secret. Now that I am a man, I read them openly.” The Language of Thorns is a book of fairy tales that any adult can pick up and be assured of engaging stories paired with beautiful art.

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