The Language of Thorns (Midnight tales and dangerous magic) – Leigh Bardugo

Getting your hands on a beautifully illustrated book is becoming more and more difficult nowadays. Besides the much-publicized Harry Potter illustrated series, there are hardly any illustrated books that receive their due share of attention. I have not read any of the books in the now famous Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo and it was by the sheerest chance that I came across this edition and immediately ordered it. However, I made the mistake of ordering the paperback edition instead of the hardback, because it was cheaper and since I wasn’t sure how good the illustrations and the stories were going to be. Well, I should have heeded the review and just spent money for the hardback edition because this edition is absolutely scrumptious. Also, it is impossible to keep a paperback flat when you want to click a decent photo.


The book is a collection of stories that can be classified as new-age fairy tales I suppose. They are all absolute gems. They seem to have a very Russian tilt to them, with underlying dark themes and the snowy landscapes in most of them. There are six tales and each page of the book carries at least a bit of illustration on it. The palette is made up of blues and reds with black outlines and works absolute wonders for the stories. At the beginning of each tale, there is a small motif on one edge of both facing pages, which then keep evolving until the end when they cover the entire border of both pages.


Ayama and the thornwood is the story of a young girl who is neglected by her family in favour of her much prettier and accomplished sister and who is then sent by them on a dangerous quest. This story would have echoes of the Arabian Nights tale, where the young girl must entertain the king with a story every night to save her life. Also, beauty and the beast to some extent. There is even a moral to the story like all good fairy tales and it was very uplifting in the end.


The too-clever fox is just what the name suggests – the story of a fox who considers himself too smart to be caught by lesser mortals. Once again the moral is very obvious , ‘Pride comes before a fall’ , just wrapped in a wonderful new package.

The witch of Duva is a take on Hansel and Gretel, it would seem. A very dark and disturbing one at that. A young girl must leave her home to go into the forest where she encounters a witch with a huge oven. Only, in the end, all things work out for the best.

Little Knife is about a river, the man who controls it and a beautiful princess. There are many men vying for the hand of the beautiful princess and then a poor nobody seems to be the one winning. What follows is another completely unexpected turn of events and was very enjoyable to read.

The soldier prince was another story that disturbed me a lot. It’s the story of a nutcracker who comes to life in the hands of a little girl and begins to believe in the world she has created for herself. Until, that is, the day that he puts himself first. This tale has a lot of sadness and malice in it even if it teaches us to be brave and master our weaknesses.

When water sang fire is about mermaids but so different from any other stories that I have read to date about them. It is about friendship and loyalty and betrayal in equal doses and was chockful of magic. It seems to be a back story for Ursula the witch in the little mermaid story, and makes one actually begin to sympathize with her.

This book deserves to be read and savoured for the wonderful imagination of the author and the lovely illustrations that adorn this book. I really wish more publishing houses will bring out illustrated editions of their works because its just so much more fun.


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