The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic Book Poster Image
Deliciously dark, illustrated Grisha world fairy tales.

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The author draws inspiration from some well-known fairy tales and stories, including "Hansel and Gretel," "The Little Mermaid," "The Nutcracker," and The Velveteen Rabbit. One story-within-a-story gets its inspiration from a real 18th-century Frenchman named Tarrare, who had a huge appetite.

Positive Messages

Like all good fairy tales, these are embedded with warnings about human weaknesses and not believing what we first perceive to be true. Someone learns of the trap of loneliness, another that there's a difference between clever and wise, another that "there are better things than princes" and being the prettiest and most coddled in the family. Courage, honesty, mercy, and cunning are necessary for better outcomes, but don't expect "happily ever after."

Positive Role Models & Representations

The resourceful and brave characters in these stories are mostly young women facing difficult trials. They are cast aside for not being pretty or important, and those who belittled them often pay a price in the end.

Violence

A few gross moments: A boy murdered, his lungs carved out; a person about to eat a child, with talk of others taken and missing; eyes pecked out by a bird; knives splitting mermaid fins into legs; a talking animal almost skinned alive and many others hunted and killed; coyotes tearing the insides from a guard. A mother dies and a town nearly starves to death, a man dies of dehydration, and there's talk of a boy taken and tortured and many soldiers killed fighting a beast.

Sex

Kissing, straight and gay. A girl hears father and stepmother having sex on the other side of her locked door with banging and moaning. Sildroher (mermaids) take lovers on land, with nothing described.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens, adults, mermaids, bears, and foxes drink wine, beer, and plum brandy at parties and in the woods. Two male characters are described as heavy drinkers frequenting taverns.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic is set in the world of author Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows duology. Three of the six stories previously appeared in a 2015 collection called Folktales from Ravka. You can read and enjoy these illustrated dark fairy tales inspired by "Hansel and Gretel," "The Little Mermaid," The Velveteen Rabbit, and more without reading other books in the series. The resourceful and brave characters in these stories are mostly young women facing difficult trials. They are cast aside for not being pretty or important, and those who belittled them often pay a price in the end. Expect some deaths and gross moments: a boy murdered, his lungs carved out; a person about to eat a child, with talk of others taken and missing; eyes pecked out by a bird; knives splitting mermaid fins into legs; a talking animal almost skinned alive and many others hunted and killed; coyotes tearing the insides from a guard. Beyond the violence, sexual content and drinking make these stories best for teens. There's kissing, straight and gay; a girl hears her father and stepmother having sex on the other side of her locked door, with banging and moaning; and  Sildroher (mermaids) take lovers on land, with nothing described. Teens, adults, mermaids, bears, and foxes drink wine, beer, and plum brandy at parties and in the woods. Two male characters are described as heavy drinkers who frequent taverns.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written bySALLY JO October 28, 2017

Dark and twisted, absolutely brilliant!

Leigh Bardugo hits us with another exuberant novel, this time a collection of stories and illustrations to create the creepy atmosphere. The stories were dark a... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE LANGUAGE OF THORNS: MIDNIGHT TALES AND DANGEROUS MAGIC, six fairy tales from four different parts of the Grisha world come together with color illustrations. The Zemeni tale called "Ayama and the Thorn Wood" pits a homely village girl against a prince exiled from the castle because he was born a monster. She has only stories and her honesty to help her survive. Three Ravkan tales follow. In "The Too-Clever Fox," a fox tries to outsmart a hunter and almost gets outsmarted himself. In "The Witch of Duva," girls continue to go missing from a starving village. A girl named Nadya seeks the help of a hermit witch who knows more about the problem than she's letting on. In "Little Knife," a poor Grisha who can control a river competes for the hand of the Duke's beautiful daughter in a series of trials. Both the river and the Duke's daughter tire of the contest. From the Kerch people, there's a tale called "The Soldier Prince." A toy maker infuses his creations with mysterious magic, including a doll he gifts to a society girl named Clara. Clara's nutcracker soldier not only whispers back to her, he believes he's real. The last tale, "When Water Sang Fire," is Fjerdan. Ulla and Signy, two mermaid friends with an extraordinary magic singing gift, are invited to visit land with the underwater kingdom's youngest prince. The prince's hunger for power forces Ulla to use her magic for a dark purpose.

Is it any good?

Author Leigh Bardugo channels the Brothers Grimm but from a feminist angle for this collection of six deliciously dark and dreamlike fairy tales set in her Grisha world. You know these succeed as fairy tales with that classic feel when you fall asleep reading them and wake up wondering what part you dreamed and what was actually a part of The Language of Thorns. And they succeed just as well for more modern readers who are less entranced by the idea that a prince will solve everything or the prettiest girl gets the best outcome. Girls need cunning and bravery -- not looks -- here. And the princes are either monsters or cads.  

The illustrations by Sara Kipin seem to sprout like vines around the margins as each tale unfolds. Every illustrated page draws out curious details: bones mixed with ribbons and potions, the haughtiness of a malicious toy maker's haircut, candle smoke steadily devouring magical singers as their fate unfolds. They add that storybook quality, which makes reading them at midnight, as instructed, an even more delicious endeavor. Get the campfire ready.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the dark nature of the fairy tales in The Language of Thorns. What kind of fairy tales do you prefer? The Disney versions or something closer to the Brothers Grimm?

  • Which is your favorite of the tales? Why? What lessons does it hold?

  • Have you read other books by Leigh Bardugo? What drew you to these tales?

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