The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Pages: 280

Genre: fantasy, fairytales

fire

“The beast might shout and snarl, and he might well devour her, but he’d at least been interested enough to listen to her speak.”

A new collection of short fairytale-inspired fantasy stories, some set in the grisha universe. I’ve never seen illustrations that fits the stories so well, and it’s a treat as the picture becomes more complete each time you turn the page.

I have a long and bumpy history with fairytale retellings, mostly irritated by them not modernizing or putting a twist on traditional fairytales, or doing so and forgetting to be a complete and good book as well. The stories in this book definitely mantained the magic and mysterious feeling of fairytales, while having more depth and interesting characters, not to mention the great endings. In some stories it’s clear right away where the inspiration is from, personally I seem to like the stories that were most unlike the original. While I like Bardugo’s writing, I feel it can sometimes become too focused on being clever and unexpected than actually keeping a reader attentive to the story itself. I’ve felt it in books like “crooked kingdom” before, and it seem to be more of a problem when the fairytale behind the story was obvious. It’s tricky, because the cleverness is arguably what makes her stand out as an author as well.

I have two favourite stories that I would recommend this book for alone. “When water sang fire” is the last story and I got pulled in to the relationship between Ulla and Signy and how it would play out. Also I love mermaids. “Ayama and the thorn wood a strong second “ is a close second for me, just the spirit of that girl and how she overcomes her circumstances is lovely to read.

*spoiler below*

An example of the lovely drawings, that spoils some of the plot of one story, but included as a reason you need to get this book in physical form.

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Ash by Malinda Lo

Pages: 291

Genre: fantasy – fairytales, young adult, lgbtq

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Synopsis

Cinderella retold…

In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.

My thoughts

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“Ash” is an okay book, with an okay main character and that’s it. Normally I like fairy tales retellings, especially if you have to guess which fairytale it is based on. In this book, however, you pretty much know straight away that it is a Cinderella story. The name of the book – and the main character – is literally Ash, as in the ash and soot Cinderella is always covered in. At the beginning, the setting sounded so promising, the fairy and fantasy-element in it so strong. Unfortunately that feeling died with her father, when she was forced away from her home and had to play it out like any other Cinderella story.

But what is a Cinderella story without a romance and a happily ever after? I was looking forward to the f/f relationship I had read all about. I am still searching for a relationship in these pages, because it never seems to start. I don’t think I can say more without spoiling the whole thing, but just know – if you want to read this book because of the lesbian/lgbtq tag/genre solely – you might want to reconsider. Unless you expect something children under twelve might call a romance, because in any relationship (friendly or romantic or sisterly), this fairytale never does anything else than skim the surface. That might be the problem for the rest of the magic elements too, we only hear about them, not actually witness them most of the time.

While this book has its magical moments, as a whole it is a bit too weak and dull. I think I’ll do as Ash and get my joy straight from the real fairytales, because this version contains too few twists or new elements to be better than the originals. Perhaps if the f/f relationship had been stronger, or maybe the plot had some original twists. But perhaps I just know too many versions of Cinderella too well, for those who only know of the Disney version, this book might be ejoyable. “Ash” had potential, but it ended there. The cover is beautiful, though.

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson

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Don’t be fooled by the beautiful cover or the fact that “it’s based on Swan Lake and Robin Hood”, this book is horribly boring. 

*some spoilers, but it’s so predicable nothing should be considered spoilers*

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Odette, the huntress and supposedly female version of Robin Hood, is the orphaned niece of a merchant and pouching from the margrave’s forest to feed the poor. She’s early Katniss Everdeen, only she’s less snarky, less brave, less of a personality and will never go hungry herself again. Jorgen is the new forester who will do anything to catch the poucher, not knowing it’s the girl he’s fallen in love with. It’s forbidden romance – of course it will happen, no secret there. But there’s also this third wealthy guy I can’t remember the name of who wants to marry Odette and so he does anything to split them up. At least he’s honest about what a douche he is.

What bothered me most about this book was how predictable it is. I wasn’t wrong about guesses a single time, and I couldn’t even feel good about it because I was so bored. This book made every other book seem like an original masterwork.

The only thing that works is the straight-forward (at best) writing. Unless you’re – like me – annoyed at the use of the word “Ja”, which means Yes in both norwegian and this supposedly german language. This book makes me want to never say the word again. Or see Robin Hood. Or read another “historical novel” in a long time. Have women be oppressed, throw in some misplaced Bible learning in this fantasy-ish story and claim it’s placed in the Holy Roman Empire. That’s how you get into that historical novel genre and not “get it at the convencience store near you – romance”. That’s also a word in norwegian – kiosknovelle – but I don’t know how to translate it, which still beats the author not translating fucking “Ja”.

It has a fucking masquerade ball. I laughed out loud. The perfect example of an over-used element. What happens at masquerade balls (in books)? People are mistaken for other people, causing drama. It’s so good at being predictable you almost have to applaud it. Also if you haven’t already figured out the plot a few chapters in, the author so graciously sums it all up in big speeches, often in big chuncks at the end of the last chapters. Below the cut there’s examples, all spoilers. To sum up this book was a big miss for me, with nothing but cliches and info dumps.

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Synopsis

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

My thoughts

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what a believable fairytale

This book is a dream of a fairytale from start to finish, except for the slow beginning. I had to frequently remind myself that this was not a fairytale handed down through generations from one mouth to another until someone came around and collected it – that’s how well-written it is. It’s a new book, but have that authentic fairytale feeling; with despair, loss and surely a message somewhere. The friendships of this book is fantastic and believable, you can relate with it and the language is near perfection, except for that slowness I mentioned. I’ve read so many bad cases of mixing fairytales and novel, somehow the formats usually doesn’t fit well together. You can read ten pages of things happening three times over, but not hundreds on hundreds. Also there’s trying to achieve the same things as Grimm’s fairytales which has been worked on for decades, everything uneccessary cut down or more added until we have the versions we know today. Still, I won’t say no to an extended version of that same magic, as this book is.

well-written relationships & persons

The characters, both the main girl Agnieszka (sorry I call you Agnes in my head), her best friend and the Dragon magician-of-the-tower is also incredibly believable. More so is the people of the village she comes from and their reaction to her, to how she acts and the development she has through the book. I can’t say I love Agniesza – she’s the type where you go NO, DON’T YOU DARE… shit TOO LATE. She has clear faults as a person and aren’t a very considering type, especially when it comes to consequences, but she’s herself. And I respect that. I wish you could see me reading this book, sitting in the corner like Dragon cursing this girl out, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with him either. His mood through it all is “wtf did I get myself into”, it’s hilarious.

the lovely & strange world

What I’ve seen people love the most about this book is the world, it’s very cozy and well-developed, while staying within what I would call normal fantasy. it has elements of those fantasy-villages and the mentality that comes with it, as well as more fairytale-ish areas (the wood is so interesting) and just fierceness. In many ways Agnieszka reminds me of Kvothe from the Kingkiller chronicles, just where she comes from, her values and reactions, not that they are the same or the stories are similiar.

don’t worry…

While I say it is a fairytale kind of book, I don’t believe it’s a version or an adaption of one well-known. I hate those books, where everything is predictable because you’ve grown up with the stories, what’s the fun in reading a book you have heard before? No, Uprooted has some elements (the tower, the beauty and the beast scenario, the village), but mainly it just got the origins and feeling right. In the acknowledgments, Naomi Novik says “ag-NYESH-kah (pronounciation) comes from a fairytale called Agnieszka Skrawek Neiba”, which I found as interesting additional information, and I might check it out sometime. But right now I’m over myself in joy of having read such a beautiful book as Uprooted. We need more of them – and Naomi Novik’s writing – in the world. Her Temeraire series is definitely different from this one, filled with dragons, but nonetheless as amazing.

Go check out this book if you haven’t already, it’s definitely something else. I will say it’s not your typical ya fantasy read, even if it has that strong female, but I didn’t expect it to be either as Novik has written the amazing “Temperaire” series as well. Extra points for the villains, I liked how that played out.

 

favourite quotes (minor spoilers)

“And I wasn’t old enough to be wise, so I loved her more, not less, because I knew she would be taken from me soon.”

“If you don’t want a man dead, don’t bludgeon him over the head repeatedly.” aka best life advice ever

“truth didn’t mean anything without someone to share it with; you could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn’t come and listen.”