Book Review: The Language of Thorns

Details:

Title: The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Illustrator: Sara Kipin

Publisher: Imprint

Release Date: September 26th, 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Short Stories,

Pages: 281 (hardcover)

Synopsis:

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

My First Thoughts:

I found this book before going a movie with my boyfriend and his family. We needed to kill some time, because we showed up way too early, so we went into the Barnes & Noble near the theater even though they all knew how dangerous of an idea that is for my wallet. That’s where I found this beautiful book on one of their display stands, and when I flipped through it and saw all the illustrations I knew there was no turning back. I love fairytales and folk lore and when authors try to reimagine them for themselves, even though it’s normally a hit or miss with most stories. I had never read the Grisha novels, though I own the first one, so I was unfamiliar with the author, but I just prayed that her wordsmithing would live up to the beauty of the illustrations.

Overall Thoughts/Opinions:

There’s so much to say for these stories and each one was so different that I feel like I can’t make a lot of generalizing comments about them, so I’ll talk about each one separately.

Ayama and the Thorn Wood

There are not too many stories out there that focuses on the classically ugly or monstrous as main characters. In fact, in young adult fiction especially, the main characters are normally portrayed with unrealistic beauty or overly mentioned mundane features that get too much attention. The first unique thing about this story is not the monster prince that must be reasoned with or killed, but that the one sent to meet him is a young woman who had spent her life on her hands and knees, overlooked, ugly, and not allowed to speak her mind. Ayama is a girl that has all the features that society would deem undesirable, with a voice that made people cringe, and that no one even dare look at, but a sharp mind that could tell when something didn’t seem quite right. She had a self-sacrificing personality because of the love she had for her sister, but she found a line she could not cross and instead leaped to a different line.

Another unique thing about this story is that it’s not your normal romance. Most stories with even a hint of romance spend a lot of time commenting on appearance and whether the characters find others attractive. In this case, there may have been a few passing comments but they almost all went unnoticed. Instead, this romance was built not on appearance but on understanding. The characters grew to understand and appreciate each other for who they were, but it was so carefully done that it almost escaped my notice until the end and it was a very happy surprise.

I loved the transformation of Ayama as her story progressed and how the beastly prince played a subtle role in her transformation. At first it was quiet, the author distracted with beautiful imagery and the stories that Ayama told, but the louder Ayama got the more apparent that her character was changing until the very end. And all it took was for one person to listen to her and showed that they actually cared about what she said, which sends a very powerful message. Just by listening to the ideas of a person you give them the power to fully realize themselves, especially if it is an individual who has spent most of their time being ignored. So next time someone is spilling to you their ideas and inner most thoughts just give them your undivided attention and see where they go.

The Too-Cleaver Fox

Again, I liked that this story focused on a character that was ugly and treated poorly for it, but also cleaver and helpful towards others. This one was vastly different than its predecessor in both tone and direction. There’s not a whole lot I can say about this story without giving anything away, but it was still very interesting though not as moving as the last one. Instead, this was a simple tale about an ugly fox trying to save the forest, even though most poked at his appearance, from a silent and impossibly deadly hunter.

This one almost fooled me, but I saw the plot twist before it was revealed in the end. That’s not saying that the author did a poor job with the twist, it was just something that I picked up as I read the fox’s reasons, thoughts, and interpretations. If I hadn’t noticed the smaller details then I might have been surprised, but even though I wasn’t the reveal was still pretty intense and had been gripping the pages as I read.

I really enjoyed the fox’s character. He was a bit of a trickster, but he always followed through on his word and he had a good heart. It was different because too often people write tricksters that either resemble Puck or Loki, but the fox while very cunning also did things for the greater good even at the expense of himself.

The Witch of Duva

Out of all the short stories, this one surprised me the most and for the first time in a while I was truly shocked by the outcome of a story.

This one felt like it drew some from the Hansel and Gretel story but only just barely. There were two children and their wood-carving father, a witch in the woods, and tasty treats but that was about it. The rest of the story either drew from other versions of the folktale that I’m unfamiliar with or came straight from the author herself. All the details that author added to the story made it come to life in a way that distracted me from all the little details pointing to the climax of the tale.

Sometimes there are just clear cut antagonists in a story, but here the antagonist was not actually the villain which also made this story unique. Let me explain, an antagonist is a character that antagonizes the protagonist and pushes them in a specific direction. However, not all antagonists are villains. For instance, in Ponyo, Ponyo’s father is her antagonist because through his actions he pushes her to rebel and try to become human, he isn’t the villain, thought, because all of his actions were meant to protect her and not harm her. And in The Witch of Duva, there is a case of a clear antagonist character and an unclear villain, which led to my surprise and love for this story.

Little Knife

This was truly an interesting story that had an ending that, while not surprising, took me a while to realize. It was unique because it ended with two characters that you might not expect at first glance and it ended in a rather quiet affair compared to the rest of the story.

It always bothered me to read stories in which the hero/heroine has to win the hand of their partner. Most of the time the partner does not like the idea or the hero/heroine at first, but they grow to love the other as the challenges go on. That just always annoyed me because I would never want my partner to go through the trials of Heracles to prove their love for me, because there are simpler things that have such a greater impact and mean more to me. Which is why I liked Little Knife, because through the whole ordeal Yeva keeps questioning the logic behind her father’s trials to find her a husband. I also enjoyed this story because the winner is someone you least expect, but someone Yeva chooses.

What I liked most about this story is something that I can’t actually talk a lot about without giving anything away. But I will say that I enjoyed the quiet ending because it was different but not unexpected due to the nature of the story. Pay close attention and you’ll see why this is one of my most favorite endings in all of my reading experience.

The Soldier Prince:

This one took me a little longer to read than the others, not because it was boring or because the pacing was too slow. No, I think the pacing was quite fine and I enjoyed the build-up for The Soldier Prince, but there was a lot more backstory to process for this one that I decided to take my time on it (also didn’t help that a new game that I had been waiting for a year for came out right when I started this story). This story also had a lot of imagery that I wanted to take my time in imagining for myself. Normally, the level of imagery in this story would’ve been too much for me but the author handled it rather well because she was describing the imaginings of a child, which tend to be rather grand for one of the character’s upbringing. Some people may have issues with the pacing in this one, but it does pick up once the story moves to the present setting.

While reading The Soldier Prince, I couldn’t help but think back to The Nutcracker which I’m quite sure is where the author drew some of her inspirations for this story. I always ran hot and cold on The Nutcracker, it never quite felt right to me. But I enjoyed The Soldier Prince because I felt like it had a more natural ending than the story of its inspiration. There are romantic elements in this tale but that is not the focus, the focus in the need and want for freedom, something that is different from what you’ve always known. For some people, it’s to travel the world and go where the wind blows. For others it’s to get lost in their imaginings and create something they think is better than their own reality. For others still, it’s to find out who they really are without the words of others telling them.

The best part of this story is how different it ended and the message that it spoke. It was profound and thought-provoking. And at the end I had to simple sit back and let it all sink in.

When Water Sang Fire

This one I believe will be a hit or miss to a lot of people. It’s much longer than all the others and is written a bit differently as well. When Water Sang Fire is a story that had a lot of build-up, like the previous story but a bit more, before it got to the main point. The world building here is a bit different because it is heavily seeped in magic and a type of magic most readers may not be familiar with, so the author had to build this magical part of her world quickly but steadily as to not lose anyone along the way. This process of creating led to a slow start that may make some readers fell a bit dragged. Personally, I really enjoyed the world building in this story because it is much different than any of the mermaids I’ve run across in fiction. However, for those who want to get to the chase, it’ll read like a long incline up the hill, but once you get to the top the pacing really picks up and by the end you’ll be tripping over yourself to finish.

Everybody is familiar with The Little Mermaid and there are plenty of retellings of that tale, but most of them never explain how the sea witch becomes this villainous figure we all know her as. When Water Sang Fire is a story that finally gives readers a wonderful journey of how the sea witch came to be, and it’s one that is so sad and lonely that it may make you pity the sea witch. I know that by the end, I felt terrible for Ulla and the life that was thrust upon her but she willingly chose.

Of all of the stories this is the longest but most beautifully written. The author did a wonderful job creating this magical setting and the characters that lived there while also moving the story along. Some of the magic may be confusing to some readers, but if you pay attention and take your time it should make itself clear. Also, some of the characterizations of the main characters seemed to be a little forced to make Ulla the more sympathetic character. I’m not saying that she doesn’t deserve sympathy, but some of the actions of the other characters don’t quite make sense to me based on their behavior leading up to that point. Otherwise it’s a beautifully told story that brings more personality to a two dimensional character a lot of us have known since we were kids.

Final Thoughts:

Overall I loved how beautifully these stories were woven together. None of them overlap with each other and each tale has a new set of characters to follow, but the author does a wonderful job bringing these characters to life and make you care for each of them within so few pages. Each place and character is a bit different from the other, but the one thing that remained the same was the theme of each story being that not everything is as it seems. Some of the stories show this theme very clearly, in some of the others you have to sift through to the very end to see it. Overall I think this is the best book that I’ve read in a while, not saying that the previous ones were bad, but the craft of this book was amazing. From the characters to the places, it read as if there was actual magic in each word and picture. I’m not sure how the author normally writes, but her stories here read like actual folktales told around a fire, they were lyrical with a smooth flow that took you straight to the end.

Also, the illustrations were phenomenal. Sara Kipin did a wonderful job bringing the stories to life through her illustrations. If you pay close enough attention, you can see how the illustrated outlines told the story as they went, adding little details from the story on every page. And the final pictures at the end of each story made me stare at them in wonder for minutes at a time before I went to the next one. If I could, I would totally by the illustrations loose so that I could get them framed and on my walls. The style, the colors, the details were just all so breathtaking and I want to show them to everyone.

Rating:

Overall, this was a wonderful collection of beautifully told stories with illustrations to match! Most of them are quick reads that you can finish in a single sitting without losing any of the magic or feeling too rushed. Each story is different and the book offers a diverse cast of characters that you can connect with. I would recommend this story to anyone who finds themselves in a reading slump or loves fairytale retellings!

Ayama and the Thorn Woods: 5

Ayama and the beastly prince stole my heart. A tale of two outcasts, hated and ignored for what they were born as, come together in the most spectacular way and help the other out unknowingly. This was romance I didn’t know I needed until I found it. It’s definitely a story about embracing who you are and the importance of listening to the inner thoughts and ideas of others. You never know how much such listening can transform a person.

The Too-Cleaver Fox: 4

While simple and not quite like the stories it’s sandwiched between, it’s still an interesting tale about a trickster trying to do what was best for the greater good. This story was unique for its portrayal of its fox character. Normally trickster characters, and especially foxes, are handled like Puck or Loki. However, here the fox while cunning and sly, never goes back on his word and does what he can to help others.

The Witch of Duva: 5

My favorite of all the short stories here. This is a haunting tale that will send shivers down your spine and make you sit at the edge of your seat. Beautifully written and wonderfully unexpected ending. This is definitely the Hansel and Gretel story I needed as a child.

Little Knife: 4

Of all of the stories in this book, I would have to say that this one is my least favorite. There is nothing wrong with this story. In fact, it is a quick and quaint read that I would recommend to everyone. But when compared to all the other stories here this one just doesn’t hold the same magic and beautiful story telling like the others did. It’s still a good story that I feel a lot of people will like, it just has superior company.

The Soldier Prince: 4.5

This one is definitely one to take your time one because it spans a vast amount of time and jumps around between a few of the characters. The build-up is slow, but the imagery and the life the author breaths into this story are fantastic. Like The Witch of Duva this is a creepy and eerie tale that’ll give you goosebumps!

When Water Sang Fire: 4.5

This one is the longest of all of the short stories and it has the longest build-up too. There’s a lot of world building and time spent understanding the magic of this story that might lose some of the readers. I believed that the pacing was just right, but others may not agree and think it’s too slow before you get to the ‘good’ stuff. Overall, it’s an interesting story full of magic and heartbreak.

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Short Story Review: The Grey Woman (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Title: The Grey Woman (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell

Genre: Short Story, Horror, Gothic

Pages: 32 (162-193)

Thoughts:

Again, this was another short story that I just could not bring myself to finish and I honestly don’t know why. Originally published in 1865, this story is written in what is now considered to be old English. Most people nowadays may not like this kind of writing style, especially since it can take some time to decipher, but I found that for the most part it was much easier to understand than some of the previous short stories that I’ve read in this selection. The author even did a wonderful job varying the lengths of her sentences and paragraphs, steering away from the long winded passages that have made other stories dull and tedious to read. I will say though that it takes a while for the story to really go anywhere.

First few pages are spent with characters that you think will be the main ones, but then it turns out that they’re actually reading the story of The Grey Woman’s protagonist. So it’s a story about a story of a woman that’s being read aloud by other people that have no relation or connection to this woman−thrilling. From what I could tell, the first third of the story is setting up the style of storytelling and some background for our true main character. All of that is fine, if it didn’t take at least ten pages to do. And within the first ten pages you gain no insight as to what the story idea is, other than a mousy German woman unenthusiastically marrying a French dandy. I can’t really comment more on this story because I couldn’t go beyond the second third, and yes, it was divided into three parts.

Rating:

Did not finish. So I can’t actually give this a rating, but I can give a list as to why I couldn’t finish.

  • Could have been because it was just too damn long to be a short story. I believe that anything more than 25 pages in a novella, which means it’s a very long short story and could actually be published on its own.
  • After ten pages I’m still not completely sure what it going on. Is the story spooky? Is it a paranormal? Murder mystery? Thriller? I don’t know!
  • I tried, I really did to pick this one up so many times but I never did get very far before my attention span burned away.
  • Also, it’s a story about a few nondescript characters reading aloud the story of another woman, who’s written her tale for a specific person who was still a bit of a mystery ten pages in.

All in all, I had to give this one up so that I could continue on to the other stories. Maybe sometime later I’ll try tackling this one again.

Short Story Review: The Murdered Cousin (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Title: The Murdered Cousin (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Author: Sheridan Le Fanu

Genre: Short Story, Horror, Gothic

Pages: 20 (142-161)

Thoughts:

For the life of me I could not finish this short story. It took me days to try to read it and I only got about six pages in before I just couldn’t do it anymore. At first I wanted to give myself a little break because while on their own not many of these stories scared me, but when mixed together they can be quite frightening. My brain decided to do just that and I had a rather disturbing nightmare that convinced me to take a short break from the short stories, especially since this one was titled The Murdered Cousin, which one can assume is scary. Honestly, I don’t know if it is a frightening tale because six pages in and the actually story is starting to unfold.

The first few pages of the story is nothing but backstory as to why the main character is going to the location of the story. It’s not that long of a back story, but the writing is so dreadfully convoluted that it takes forever for the author to say anything. I’ve read old stories and normally there’s a little bit of a grace period for me to switch from current writing to something older, but I just couldn’t do it with this one.

The sentence structure is terrible, while grammatically correct they can run on for lines and lines and lines at a time being separated by semicolons instead of periods. There’s no variance in the sentence structure either, their either long with multiple thoughts or they’re really short. The paragraphs are much the same way, really short or half the page. I think the longest sentence that I found was one of three in a single paragraph, it took up several lines and had about six or seven semicolons. That all bothers me because my brain just can’t stay focused on a style like that. Many times I found myself yawning and fighting sleep in the middle of the day while reading this.

Rating:

Did not finish. So I can’t actually give this a rating, but I can give a list as to why I couldn’t finish.

  • Impossibly long sentences, but actually grammatically correct, they just aren’t done anymore.
  • 6 pages in and we’re just getting to the start of the actual story.
  • 6 pages of nothing but back ground, but not a whole lot of back ground to cover, just a lot of thoughts that take up several pages.
  • After several pages I know more about the non-perspective main character than the main character telling the actually story.
  • There’s some intrigue to keep me reading, but not enough to endure the writing style.
  • Paragraphs are either short with impossibly long sentences or long with a mixture of short and long sentences.
  • Really just feels like word vomit sometimes.
  • I couldn’t stay awake enough to keep me invested in the story. A minute after putting it down, I would stop yawning and feel a hundred times more awake.

The biggest problem for me was the author’s writing style, it was not something I could enjoy even with a bit of effort. But if it’s something that doesn’t bother you I would give The Murdered Cousin a try, the idea and premise sounded interesting enough.

Anthology Review: Thing in the Bucket (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Title: Thing in the Bucket (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Author: Eric Esser

Genre: Short Story, Horror, Paranormal, Historical fiction

Pages: 8 (134-142)

Thoughts:

The more I sit on this story, the more I realize that the Thing in the Bucket is creepy on several levels. First, it’s set in a time when blood-letting was considered a viable cure for various diseases and foul moods. The sight or description of blood doesn’t bother me, unless it’s my own, but the concept of blood-letting just makes me shiver because it’s such a gruesome technique that people willingly participated in. Second, after going back and thinking about some of the events that occurred they seem a bit surreal, impossible to have actually occurred naturally. Therefore, there was a subtle shift into the paranormal that may catch some readers off guard, like myself. Thirdly, there was a delicate transformation of the main character that isn’t overly apparent until the very end when the metaphor in the story was realized.

While the story’s diction doesn’t really allude to a past time, the events and various superstitions of the people described hint at an older time long gone. If there was more dialogue I would have preferred for the author to try and use older words and meaning to give this story more authenticity, but the time wasn’t the main focus of this story. Instead, it is the inner workings of one character’s mind and motives and how they change due to their choices. While there is gore within this story, it isn’t overtly described, just enough to paint a decent picture. Overall, this was a thoroughly creepy and interesting story that I’m sure some high school teacher would love to have their students dissect for hidden meanings.

Rating:

4/5

Thing in the Bucket is an odd kind of horror story. Nothing jumps out and screams ‘Boo!’ Instead Esser invokes a niggling sense of unease in the back of the mind that grows the more you think over the story. Not everyone will find this story chilling, but those who do may find it increasingly more enjoyable than others. If you’re not a fan of blood I wouldn’t give this story a read.

Anthology Review: A Game of Conquest (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Title: A Game of Conquest (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Author: David A. Elsensobn

Genre: Short Story, Horror, Paranormal, Historical fiction

Pages: 6 (128-133)

Thoughts:

A Game of Conquest is a simple paranormal tale that doesn’t contain much action. However it is still a strong story because of the imagination and details the author weaves into it. He turns a simple game into another story, one that reveals the true nature of each player and the conclusion of the tale. I can’t really say much more without giving anything away, but the author found an interesting way to portray his characters to the reader, giving them much about their pasts but still keeping the story interesting.

Set in the 1840s, the author tries to emulate the language and mannerisms of the time to help immerse the readers into the story. Elsensobn writes poetry with his descriptions, making them vivid and simple, but with a flare of the time through choice wording. Overall a brilliant and imaginative telling of a simple enough idea that is less than original.

Rating:

5/5

A Game of Conquest is a quick, fast paced read for anyone who wants a brief moment in a paranormal past! The language, while older, is still rather easy to understand and doesn’t hinder the pacing of the story. Anyone who wants a good, vivid read will enjoy this short story. The only people I doubt will like this one is anyone who isn’t a fan of historical fiction.

Anthology Review: Leonora (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Title: Leonora (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Author: Elise Forier Edie

Genre: Short Story, Horror, Paranormal, Historical fiction

Pages: 6 (122-127)

Thoughts:

Leonora was not what I was expecting when I started reading. At first, I thought I was going to read another boring story, but better written than the last one. Then the author started throwing out little hints to the direction the story would go. If you’re familiar with the mythology the author was playing with, then you would have known right away. However, if you’re like me and wasn’t aware, then you quickly and shockingly get turned on your head by the surprise. Eide uses that shock to change the tone of her story and to add to the overall emotion of the climax.

The author’s voice is spectacular in Leonora. The language and diction definitely gives off an older feel to the story, helping to transport you back in time. For those well versed in history you may be able to guess the time period this story was aiming for, but if not it doesn’t really hinder the appeal of the story. The descriptions are very deliberate, the author choosing what things to focus on to add to the experience and mood of the reader. Overall, it’s a fantastic short story that both horrifies and intrigues.

Rating:

5/5

Leonora is a fabulous, quick and easy read for most readers. I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone who is uncomfortable with gore, while the scene is brief it did make me a little queasy reading it. If you love mythology, gore, or want a good shock then I recommend this highly!

Anthology Review: In Search of a New Wilhelm (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Title: In Search of a New Wilhelm (Chilling Horror Short Stories)

Author: John H. Dromey

Genre: Short Story, Horror, Science Fiction

Pages: 5 (117-121)

Thoughts:

In Search of a New Wilhelm is a less impressive rip off of Alien. It’s five pages of awkward, barely realistic dialogue between one unbearable individual and another. The beginning makes little sense, the characters just sort of appear in a place together and the author tries to string together an excuse for how they got there. The author gives little descriptive information outside of the dialogue. In fact, the author does very little outside of the long diarrhea of chatter between the two characters, with one doing more talking than the other. There is absolutely no emotion in this piece. None. I hate bugs and Alien freaks me the hell out, but this story only makes me feel revulsion that one of these sick bastards is sicker than the other.

This short story barely makes any sense. I can barely call it science fiction because while it does deal with extra ordinary creatures they aren’t described, none of the tech is described, and there’s a brief mention of a top secret organization that barely plays a role in this story. The author’s voice is barely present. The description in nonexistent. While I don’t mind a lot of dialogue and I understand some stories must be driven by it, the dialogue here is just so awkward and robotic that it’s not very enjoyable.

Rating:

1/5

In Search of Wilhelm was a major miss for me. While the idea has some value, if you like the concept of Alien, the delivery was lackluster. Some people may enjoy this short story, and I would only recommend this story to people who like bugs or the Alien series. If you don’t like either of those things, then I highly suggest you skip this one all together.