The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo is accompanied by several companion stories, written in the style of fairytales and fables. The Too-Clever Fox is one of these, and is available for free online at Tor.com. Last year I reviewed another of Bardugo’s short stories, The Witch of Duva, on my other blog. I enjoyed The Too-Clever Fox and The Witch of Duva, but ultimately had the same issue with both: the ending was a cop-out.
The Too-Clever Fox is the story of the runt of the litter, Koja, whose quick thinking and clever tongue get him out of all sorts of conundrums. He survives a great deal and builds a strong network of forest friends through wit, guile, and thoughtful planning. When a ruthless hunter comes to the nearby village, killing many of his friends and kin, Koja puts a plan in motion to stop the hunter once and for all.
The point of The Too-Clever Fox, articulated in the final paragraph of the story, is that wisdom is better than cleverness. Basically, it’s better to know than to figure things out. It’s not a point I agree with, and its late emergence in the story bothers me a bit. I wish the thesis or theme of The Too-Clever Fox would have appeared sooner. The story is a detailed and gripping ride, but at the end it warps into something philosophical and not wholly satisfying.
As to the ending being a cop-out, I offer the same justification for my opinion that I did in my review of The Witch of Duva: I was raised on Grimm stories. The brothers pull no punches — if there’s opportunity for violence and gory deaths, then violence and gory deaths there shall be. The field was wide open for such a death in The Too-Clever Fox, but Bardugo allows the character to live. Maybe I’m just cruel, but I think the story would have been better served had the death taken place.
Bardugo is great at writing these fables and fairytales. She has a knack for immersing the reader in the world of the story and bringing it to life with detail and care. Her characters are interesting people, even when she draws from fairytale archetypes, and it’s easy to care about their lives. I would still recommend her stories to fans of fantasy and fables, but I do hope that she takes a lesson from the likes of George R.R. Martin and the Grimms, and learns how to maim/kill a few favourite characters.