The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic: A Review

Leigh Bardugo follows up her popular Grisha trilogy and its companion Six of Crows duology with The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic, a collection of atmospheric short stories which serve as an excellent introduction to the Grishaverse for new readers while expanding the world for seasoned fans.

The six short stories (including three previously published by Tor.com) are inspired by the cultures found in the Grishaverse as well as traditional fairy tales, folk tales, and myths. In her author’s note Bardugo explains her thought process as she examined familiar fairy tales and pulled at the troubling threads found within.

Every story is accompanied by Sarah Kipin‘s border illustrations which grow around the pages as the tales unfolds culminating in a double page illustration at the end of each story. Two color printing enhances the collection and makes this a stunning addition to any bookshelf.

In “Ayama and the Thorn Wood,” a Zemeni tale with nods to Cinderella, The Thousand Nights and Beauty and the Beast, Ayama ventures into the Thorn Wood where she must speak truth while placating a fearsome beast with fanciful stories.

The Ravkan story “The Too-Clever Fox,” follows Koja–an ugly fox–as he learns that sometimes help from a friend outweighs mere cunning when he tries to stop a ruthless hunter.

Bardugo’s answer to Hansel and Gretel, “The Witch of Duva” follows Nadya into the woods where she finds a wondrous witch who can help her discover the truth about her new step-mother–but only for a steep cost.

Beautiful Yeva questions her father’s decision to follow the common fairy tale tradition of setting nearly impossible tasks to choose her future husband in “Little Knife” as Semyon uses his abilities as a Tidemaker to get help from a river to complete them.

The Kerch tale of “The Soldier Prince” explores themes of identity and desire when a demon named Droessen creates a nutcracker soldier who comes to life–but is being alive the same as being real?

The collection finishes with the Fjerdan story “When Water Sang Fire” about a sildroher mermaid named Ulla who dreams of being able to use her singing magic as she chooses, until her attempt to create a fire that will burn underwater ends in betrayal and heartbreak, suggesting a possible origin story for the Little Mermaid’s notorious sea witch.

Themes of feminism and empowerment color each story with heroes and heroines given the chance to choose their own fates and stir the pot, for better or worse. Strong writing, compelling stories, and gorgeous illustrations make this collection a must have for fans of the author and readers eager for new fairy tale retellings to devour.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the October 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

Crooked Kingdom: A Review

*Crooked Kingdom is the conclusion to Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Six of Crows*

“But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we have crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.”

—-

“Crows remember human faces. They remember the people who feed them, who are kind to them. And the people who wrong them too.”

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh BardugoIn a city where trade is sacred, Kaz Brekker knows the ins and outs of negotiation better than most. But even Kaz’s knack for staying ten steps ahead of his enemies and rivals can’t help him when he is double-crossed in the wake of what should have been the greatest heist of his nefarious career.

Now Kaz and his crew are scrambling to evade their enemies and regroup before moving against some of the most powerful figures in Ketterdam. Kaz may have lost a member of his crew. He may be branded as a traitor. But Kaz is also one of the only people who understands the true dangers of the drug jurda parem. And Kaz, along with his crew, is the only one who can hope to make things right.

Kaz and his crew are alone in a dangerous game that could change the face of Ketterdam and the rest of the world forever. As the odds turn against him, Kaz will have to use every trick he’s learned to change the game and get justice once and for all in Crooked Kingdom (2016) by Leigh Bardugo.

Crooked Kingdom is the conclusion to Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Six of Crows.

As a sequel, Crooked Crows had a lot of promise and high expectations to meet. Like Six of Crows it is written with alternating close third person viewpoints for each member of the crew (Kaz, Inej, Nina, Metthias, Jesper, Wylan) as well as some other key figures. The multiple plot threads and overlapping narratives play against each other and build tension as the novel moves to a conclusion appropriately filled with surprises.

At her launch event for Crooked Kingdom, Bardugo mentioned that this series was inspired by her love of heist movies. Unfortunately, the plot devices in heist films rely heavily on visual cues or sleight of hand, neither of which translates well into a novel. Bardugo makes her inclusion of clues and hints to make the payoff for various cons and twists in this book seem effortless.

Bardugo’s prose is intelligent, deliberate, and thoughtful. Any author can give a character a redemption arc but the truly impressive thing here is that Kaz is exactly what he says he is from the beginning. He is a monster. He is a villain. He is ruthless. And yet by the end of this series he also has depth and nuance and is so much more than even he can fathom. The level of development and growth for the entire cast of characters was fascinating and incredibly satisfying.

This novel is an amazing reference for the mechanics of how a novel comes together and how a series should culminate. Every single thing that is hinted at either in Six of Crows or in the beginning of this book eventually comes together and is resolved. Surprises perfectly balance expected outcomes and characters shock as much as they impress. Crooked Kingdom is an excellent story with a tightly wound plot and characters who are flawed and grasping even as they learn and grow. A perfect conclusion to an exceptional duology.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

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Last night's launch for Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo was a total blast. It was great to hang out with old blogging friends and meet new ones. The event started with a Q&A with Leigh and Jesse the Reader talking about Six of Crows characters and Leigh's next project. Some choice tidbits: Matthias would order a super fussy frappucino from Starbucks but he'd be embarrassed and pay someone to do it, Nina is Wonder Woman, Jesper is a feminist and would love The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis. Leigh also pointed out that scared writers make bad writing and that half the struggle is just putting in the time to finish a draft and revise. I left the panel part of the event feeling inspired and excited for Crooked Kingdom and it's epic red pages of course. After the panel it was time to wait for the signing where Leigh was gracious and charming and fun to talk to one on one. I also left with some sweet swag including a "No mourners, yes waffles" cookie, a crow cookie, a Wylan playing card, and a fancy matte Crooked Kingdom button. I'm only eighteen pages in but I'm already loving it. #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #latergram #crookedkingdom #fiercereads #leighbardugo

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Six of Crows: A Review

“A good magician wasn’t much different from a proper thief.”

Six of Crows by Leigh BardugoNothing is sacred except trade to the island nation of Kerch where the city of Ketterdam is a hub of international trade. In a city where anything can be bought or sold, Kaz Brekker has most of the city eating out of the palm of his hand.

When Kaz is offered the chance to take on an impossible heist, he knows the rewards are worth the risk–especially when they will bring him one crucial step closer to revenge.

But even Kaz will need help on this job.

He draws together an unlikely crew: a convict eager for revenge of his own, a sharpshooter who loves the cards more than they love him, a runaway with a secret, a spy known as the Wraith, a Heartrender using her magic to stay alive in Ketterdam’s slums and, of course, a thief with a talent for impossible escapes.

Six people, but a thousand ways that Kaz’s insane plan could go wrong in Six of Crows (2015) by Leigh Bardugo.

Six of Crows is the first book in a two book series which will continue in Empire of Crows. It is also a companion to Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. This book is shortly after the events of the Grisha trilogy and in the same world although there are new characters. You can absolutely read this novel without reading the Grisha books first. (I did!)

Six of Crows is an impressive undertaking filled with complex heists, jail breaks, bait and switch twists, and high-octane action from page one. The novel is written in third person with alternating close points of view. Most of the chapters follow Kaz or members of his diverse crew.

By alternating viewpoints so often Bardugo is able to deliver a well-rounded and nuanced story with multiple plot threads. The book’s structure also allows for slow reveals of character motivations and backgrounds.

While there are moments of violence in Six of Crows, they are quick and easy to gloss over for squeamish readers. Fans of the Grisha trilogy will, of course, already be familiar with the well-realized and detailed world of the Grisha. That said, Bardugo does a good job of explaining details for readers coming to Six of Crows without the background of her earlier trilogy.

Unsurprisingly, Six of Crows does end with quite a few twists and much left unresolved which is guaranteed to leave readers eager for book two.

Twists, turns, and surprises guarantee that this novel is sure to have high appeal. A solid heist story with minimal fantasy elements make Six of Crows an ideal introduction to fantasy for readers hoping to try the genre.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*