The Language of Thorns: A retelling with progressive twists // Book Review

“I can bear ugliness,” he said. “I find the one thing I cannot live with is death.”


This is a collection of short stories that exist within the Grishaverse, but they are familiar retellings of classics we know and love, such as The Little Mermaid, The Nutcracker, Hansel and Gretel, and more. There are six short stories in total:

  • Ayama and The Thorn Wood
  • The Too-Clever Fox
  • The Witch of Duva
  • Little Knife
  • The Soldier Prince
  • When Water Sang Fire

Oh, and someone pointed out to me that The Darkling from the Shadow and Bone trilogy appears briefly in The Little Mermaid retelling, so just a heads up for fans. 🙂

***Genre: Retelling, Fable, Classics, YA


My thoughts:

Mmm, this was an enjoyable read. The atmosphere in these stories are moody and slightly disturbing, and it put me on edge in fear and anticipation right from the start: because as with most fables, there are fangs ready to be bared at the end, and it was a most delicious feeling not knowing what was to come next.

Because for me, what truly made this book stand out was the fact that it’s a retelling with progressive twists. The author takes familiar stories and gives them perspective shifts so you realize that perhaps certain characters were never truly the hero of their stories, and I loved that. There’s one about The Little Mermaid, another about The Nutcracker, and a particularly dark one about Hansel and Gretel that gave me the creeps.

Furthermore, talk about stunning illustrations! The stories alone are stimulating enough to hold your interest, but the vibrant colors and evolving illustrations encasing the text definitely enhanced my urge to read on; they contributed so much to the mood of these stories, and as a picture book aficionado, I absolutely relished poring over the little details and changes in illustrations from page to page.

But if I had any critiques for this book, I’d say there were aspects to the writing where modern speech tended to intrude upon the airy-fairy narration, and that took me out of the story at times. Granted, this in no way marred my enjoyment of this book as a whole, but I did dock it a few points considering this book is a relatively simple read, and such technical issues could’ve (and should’ve) been easily ironed out.

Furthermore, although the author attempts to project a manner of omniscience and whimsy (as all fables go), there were moments where she flitted in and out of the characters’ heads, and it made the tone feel inconsistent. She either should’ve gotten more intimate with the character POVs, or she should’ve totally stayed distant as an all-knowing narrator, because courting both made the book feel stilted at times.

Otherwise, this was a very enjoyable read. The illustrations are beautiful and engaging, the dark tone of these stories intriguing and complex, and I loved the chills I got at some of these twists: this book is perfect for anyone in a reading slump because it is digestible, compelling, and oh-so-atmospheric.

Recommended? Of course!

Mind you, my snobby little nitpicks should not in any way discourage anyone from reading this book because as I said, these are nitpicks: these are minor bumps in the road that I noticed simply due to the fact that I’m familiar with story-telling norms in fables, and thus the few technical failings of this book stood out to me more.

In that, I recommend this book for ages 11 and up. This book can easily be consumed by younger readers, but as it is slightly disturbing and dark at times, I might offer caution when exposing this book to someone who gets spooked easily (like me).

“There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls.”

Bottom line: Perfect for a reading slump!

This collection of short stories is exactly what you expect when reading a fable: easy-to-read and deliciously uncomfortable. Therefore, if you ever need an unburdensome read, do pick this one up! I think anyone with an appreciation for classics or retellings will enjoy its dark, accessible, and atmospheric vibe.

Rating: 4/5 stars


***By the way, [SPOILER ALERT!!!] The Too-Clever Fox was my favorite of the stories. I mean, I was absolutely chilled by how manipulative and heartless the hunter was, so I was practically sweating bullets thinking the fox would die. Needless to say, I was happy that it ended on such a cathartic note with the hero triumphing at the end.

***UPDATE: Next review to come (hopefully) is The Bartimaeus Trilogy. Goshdarn I love these books, but my initial draft was a rambling mess, so I’m still trying to clean it up. If I manage to be coherent, the review shall be out this Sunday. If not….*shifty eyes*


  1. Great review! I am still trying to finish the Grisha trilogy (loved Six of Crows) so I can get on to this, but I really liked the thing you mentioned about shifting perspectives. That’s always interesting to me in retellings, so I am even more excited to read this now! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this book as well and I have to agree the illustrations are gorgeous! If I were to nitpick at this book I’d probably say all the different colours of the text were slightly disorientating, but still haha

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I definitely agree on the inconsistency of certain bits… And hey, we share the same fave short story! I absolutely loved The Too Clever Fox- Nikolai has probably made his way to becoming one of my all-time fave characters, and that says something! In terms of novels, I definitely enjoyed Six Of Crows & Crooked Kingdom more than I did the Grisha trilogy, though I’ve heard people being mad about both… I don’t know, might just be me. 🤷
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Leigh Bardugo is such an amazing writer and I absolutely adored The Language of Thorns. I see why you would enjoy The Too-Clever Fox the most. Did you know it is mentioned as being Kaz Brekker’s favourite story in the Six of Crows duology? My personal favourite was Ayama and the Thorn Wood, just because I loved the moral of that so much.
    Great review!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh really?! I did NOT catch that! Thanks for letting me know, because I love Six of Crows. 🙂
      I love Ayama too! It was a very Beauty and the Beast story, and I thought was very sweet. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved this book! The stories were so chilling and subtly horrifying. I honestly didn’t put it down for hours! I thought the illustrations suited the mysterious nature of the stories and they reminded me of vines, devouring the words.
    Excellent review.

    Liked by 1 person

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