Featured Review: Little Thieves (Margaret Owen)
About This Book:
A scrappy maid must outsmart both palace nobles and Low Gods in a new YA fantasy by Margaret Owen, author of the Merciful Crow series.
Once upon a time, there was a horrible girl...
Vanja Schmidt knows that no gift is freely given, not even a mother’s love―and she’s on the hook for one hell of a debt. Vanja, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele's dutiful servant up until a year ago. That was when Vanja’s otherworldly mothers demanded a terrible price for their care, and Vanja decided to steal her future back… by stealing Gisele’s life for herself.
The real Gisele is left a penniless nobody while Vanja uses an enchanted string of pearls to take her place. Now, Vanja leads a lonely but lucrative double life as princess and jewel thief, charming nobility while emptying their coffers to fund her great escape. Then, one heist away from freedom, Vanja crosses the wrong god and is cursed to an untimely end: turning into jewels, stone by stone, for her greed.
Vanja has just two weeks to figure out how to break her curse and make her getaway. And with a feral guardian half-god, Gisele’s sinister fiancé, and an overeager junior detective on Vanja’s tail, she’ll have to pull the biggest grift yet to save her own life.
Margaret Owen, author of The Merciful Crow series, crafts a delightfully irreverent retelling of “The Goose Girl” about stolen lives, thorny truths, and the wicked girls at the heart of both.
*Review Contributed by Olivia Farr, Staff Reviewer*
LITTLE THIEVES is an imaginative, enthralling, and captivating YA fantasy that made me fall in love and broke my heart a million times over. At only four, Vanja was delivered to the Low Gods, Fortune and Death, by her mother who feared she was bad luck. Being raised by Low Gods is not quite what you might expect, and the choices they have given her have felt like anything but.
Vanja is now a notorious thief, the Pfennigiest, who steals from the wealthy and leaves behind red pennies. She steals their jewelry from under their noses to fund her own freedom - while also living a lie. She has stolen the appearance and life of the princess, Gisele, for whom she was a maid since childhood. Things, however, are changing when she finds herself cursed by a Low God offended by her thievery and greed, Gisele's betrothed Adalbrecht has returned to wed her, and the magical investigators- and one Junior Prefect, Emeric, in particular- are on the hunt for the Pfennigiest.
As Vanja tries to untangle the requirements of her curse - without the help from her godmothers - she also must fight for her life, contend with her past mistakes, and circumvent all the forces working against her.
What I loved: The characters in this story are fully realized and absolutely easy to fall in love with. Beginning with Vanja, but also including Emeric, Gisele, and Ragne, these are all wonderfully flawed and beautifully growing people that captivate the reader. Vanja has made mistakes, and she knows this, but what are choices if they are all bad? How can she make her own luck? Her humor, wit, heartfelt, and clever nature make her a character to behold. Her story will live close to the reader's heart. Through her eyes, the reader can see this world as it is, as well as the power struggles and political imbalances that separate the classes. Emeric is a character that feels like an acquired taste. His transformation in the reader's eyes feels miraculous, but by the end of the story, he is one of the greatest. He is loyal, genuine, and true - though not without a propensity towards mistakes. Gisele is another character who seems victim and villain, and only the story can help the reader weigh on which side she will fall. My absolute favorite may have been Ragne, the daughter of a Low God, whose honesty, confidence, and fervor make her a character that truly stands out in all the best ways. Notably, all these characters were so wonderfully crafted that they came to feel like close friends.
The plot itself is also beautifully written and the world fantastically constructed. The book is divided by the beginnings of fairytales that provide us glimpses into Vanja's life, along with gorgeous illustrations. These fairytales add an extra element of the mysterious and imaginative to the story, twisting her life from something mystical to something that felt so real. The pace was absolutely spot-on with nary a dull moment and the right amount of action and reflection/inner turmoil to bring the story to life. It is masterfully woven with twists that seem unexpected until you arrive at them and then feel there could have been no other way. The surprises and reveals were absolutely thrilling, and the whole story was completely riveting. I also really loved the romances that grow during the story, and I felt my heart break and mend with each scene leading to them in all those lovely ways Owen seems to be uniquely suited to writing.
The themes were really thought-provoking and powerful around impossible choices, servitude, power imbalances, trust, the definition of thieves, socioeconomic inequality and its manifestations, abuse of power, trauma, and morality with all its gray areas. In particular, the title comes from the notion of levels of thieves and the way that this is defined by power. This idea can be seen in the modern world as well, as those with power seem to escape punishment and differing dynamics with power around stealing (eg, punishment of wage theft by a company vs stealing from a company). This would definitely be a topic worth discussing and delving into further with a book group. Power and its imbalances are another strong topic in this book around the way servants are treated as well as the way in which the lower socioeconomic classes are suppressed and their world view differs as a result. This story raises a lot of important and inticing themes that warrant further discussion.
Final verdict: With masterful story-telling, captivating characters, and poignant themes, LITTLE THIEVES is a stunning and heartfelt YA fantasy that readers are sure to devour. Highly recommend for fans of VESPERTINE, THE SHADOWS BETWEEN US, THE PRISON HEALER, and THRONE OF GLASS.
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