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The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

The tale of a monstrous man and the ordinary girl who finds him.  A clever fox who uses his wits to save the forest and his friends.  A witch who lives deep in the darkest part of the wood, her house smelling of gingerbread, and the girl who finds her there after being cast out by her father and stepmother.  A beautiful duke’s daughter whose hand is promised to the man who can complete impossible tasks.  A girl who travels to faraway lands with her nutcracker prince.  And a lonely mermaid with a beautiful voice who longs for something more.

Do these tales sound familiar?  They aren’t.

In Leigh Bardugo’s fairy stories, all the roses have thorns, magic has a price, witches aren’t who you think they are, enchantments are deeper than kisses, monsters don’t keep to the woods, and princesses and peasants alike can rescue themselves.  Love, revenge, sacrifice, magic, enchantment, beasts, gingerbread, marzipan, jewels, lost children, witches, sirens, wizards, transformations… all are here, and all will make you reach for the salt.

Deliciously dark, these fairy tales from the Grishaverse will make you shiver, gasp, and read deep into the night.  Lush, haunting, and glittering, the magic between the pages of The Language of Thorns will ensnare any reader who turns its gorgeously illustrated pages.  For anyone who pored over the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, likes their magic with sharp edges, or read the Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows duology and knows how spectacular the world-building is in Leigh Bardugo’s stories, don’t miss this beautiful book of stories.  And, if you are a Bardugo fan, you just may find a young Darkling within these pages… perhaps.

Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor

If you’ve read the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, you already know Zuzana and Mik, Karou’s best friend from art school and her boyfriend, otherwise known as Violin Boy.  But you don’t know how Zuzana finally got up the courage to win Mik’s heart while Karou was out hunting for wishes.  And if you haven’t read those amazing books… then this novella is the perfect introduction to the marvelous world of magic and wishes that Zuzana, Mik, and Karou inhabit so fully.

Wait, you say, you already read Night of Cake and Puppets as an eBook?  This lovely print edition is lushly illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo, who also did the illustrated for Laini’s National Book Award-winning Lips Touch: Three Times, so even if you’ve already devoured this companion story on your tablet, you definitely want to read this gorgeous, romantic, Bohemian story of falling in love again.

Zuzana, apprentice puppet maker, and Mik, violinist, both work at the Marionette Theater of Prague on the weekends.  Zuzana is madly in love with the boy who believes in miracles (the sticker on his violin case tells her this)… but has never spoken to him.  Mik is fascinated by the tiny, fierce Zuzana, and imagines her to be the sort of girl who vanishes into mirrors and stars mist on Saturday nights… but he has never spoken to her.

Fortunately, Zuzana is in possession of five small wishes.  Wishes that can help her make magic happen with a little help from snow, sugar, puppets, cake, tea, and Mozart.  And on this snowy night in Prague, Zuzana is more than ready to write the first page of her own love story.

Wait, why are you still reading this blog post?!  Check out this book and disappear between the pages of its sugar-spun marzipan story of magic and snowflakes and first kisses.  Fall in love with snowy streets and marionettes and tombstones.  Wish for peacock footprints.  And then Carpe your own noctem.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Vasilisa Petrovna, or so the stories say, is the granddaughter of a witch, and her blood runs thick with magic.  The lastborn of her father’s first wife, Vasya is raised by her nurse, Dunya, and her older sister, Olga on stories of the spirits that haunt the forests, the lakes and the trees, and guard the hearth fires and her beloved horses.   As she grows older, small Vasya’s escapades and long absences in the forest are often overlooked with fond exasperation by her older sister and brothers, father Pyotr, and nurse Dunya.  After all, she is a creature of the forest, as much as the rusalka and the leshy.

Until the early winter night Vasya finds herself inexplicably and unexplainably lost, and cold, and in a unfamiliar clearing with an ancient oak she has never seen before.  At the foot of the oak lies an one-eyed man, scarred and sleeping and strange.  But when Vasya tries to wake the sleeper, a man on a white mare, both young and old, and with ice-blue eyes that burn with a cold fire, stops her from waking the man and sends her on her way.  Out from beneath the shadow of the oak, a frightened Vasya finds that night has fallen and her brothers and father, along with the men of the village, are hunting for her, frantic with worry.  For the first time, she is not sorry to be kept indoors.

Still, as Vasya grows, despite all her father and new stepmother do to try to make her into a proper young maiden, she remains wild and untamed.  She spends her days roaming the forest, keeping watch over the spirits of trees and lakes and horses and fires, protecting them from her stepmother’s growing campaign against the old ways, and growing into her destiny.  For Vasilisa Petrovna has a great task lying before her, one she will have to fight to be allowed to take on.  That long ago night beneath the ancient oak was no dream, and the sleeper is truly waking.

This novel was absolute magic.  I loved every beautifully written word of it.  Vasya’s home on the edge of the wild, cold forests of northern Russia is brought to life in stunning detail on the page – you can feel the harsh beauty of midwinter, the lush bounty of the forest in summer, Vasya’s joy with her horses, the warm love of family that holds Vasya, her sister, brothers, and father together, and the creeping chill of cold terror as the sleeper begins to wake.  To tell much more will ruin the absolute delight you’ll have at letting Vasya’s story unfold for you, but if you love historical fiction, fantasy, or just a gorgeously written story, make sure you curl up with The Bear and the Nightingale under a very thick pile of blankets this winter!