Exclusive Excerpt: Leigh Bardugo’s ‘The Language of Thorns’

It’s been a busy year for Leigh Bardugo. Wonder Woman: Warbringer, her first foray into the DC universe, comes out this month, and The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic, set in the Grishaverse of her Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows books, will arrive this fall. The latter, a lavish collection of short stories with enchanting illustrations by Sara Kipin, sweeps readers to a world of talking beasts, hungry woods, and haunted towns. Bardugo shares an excerpt from one of the stories, ‘Ayama and the Thorn Wood,’ with Goodreads.

In the year that summer stayed too long, the heat lay upon the prairie with the weight of a corpse. The tall grass withered to ash beneath the unforgiving sun, and animals fell dead in the parched fields. That year, only the flies were happy, and trouble came to the queen of the western valley.

We all know the story of how the queen became a queen, how despite her tattered clothes and lowly position, her beauty drew the notice of the young prince and she was brought to the palace, where she was dressed in gold and her hair was woven with jewels and all were made to kneel before a girl who had been nothing but a servant bare days before.

That was before the prince became a king, when he was still wild and reckless and hunted every afternoon on the red pony that he’d done the work of breaking himself. It pleased him to rile his father by choosing a peasant bride instead of marrying to forge a political alliance, and his mother was long dead, so he went without sage counsel. The people were amused by his antics and charmed by his lovely wife, and for a time the new couple was content. His wife gave birth to a round-cheeked princeling, who gurgled merrily in his crib and grew more beloved with every passing day.

But then, in the year of that terrible summer, the old king died. The reckless prince was crowned and when his queen grew heavy with their second child, the rains ceased. The river burned away to a dry vein of rock. The wells filled with dust. Each day, the pregnant queen walked the battlements at the top of the palace, her belly swollen, praying that her child would be wise and strong and handsome, but praying most of all for a kind wind to cool her skin and grant her some relief.

The night their second son was born, the full moon rose brown as an old scab in the sky. Coyotes surrounded the palace, howling and clawing at the walls, and tore the insides from a guard who had been sent to chase them away. Their frenzied baying hid the screams of the queen as she looked upon the creature that had slipped squalling from her womb.

This little prince was shaped a bit like a boy but more like a wolf, his body covered in slick black fur from crown to clawed foot. His eyes were red as blood, and the nubs of two budding horns protruded from his head.

The king wasn’t eager to start a precedent of killing princes, but such a creature could not be raised in the palace. So he called upon his most learned ministers and his greatest engineers to build a vast maze beneath the royal compound. It ran for mile after mile, all the way to the market square, doubling back on itself again and again. It took years for the king to complete the labyrinth, and half the workmen tasked with its construction were lost within its walls and never heard from again. But when it was done, he took his monstrous son from the cage in the royal nursery and had him placed in the maze that he might trouble his mother and the kingdom no more…

You can read the rest of the story when The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic hits bookshelves on September 26. And check out our interview with Leigh Bardugo here.

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posted by Hayley
on August, 07