Painted Devils (Little Thieves, #2)

Painted Devils (Little Thieves, #2)
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Release Date
May 16, 2023
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A scrappy former maid and jewel thief must outwit gods, injustice, and her own past in this sequel to the Indie Next Pick, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen.

Let's get one thing straight - Vanja Schmidt wasn't trying to start a cult.

After taking down a corrupt margrave, breaking a deadly curse, and finding romance with the vexingly scrupulous junior prefect Emeric Conrad, Vanja had one great mystery left: her long-lost birth family . . . and whether they would welcome a thief. But in her search for an honest trade, she hit trouble and invented a god, the Scarlet Maiden, to scam her way out. Now that lie is growing out of control—especially when Emeric arrives to investigate and the Scarlet Maiden manifests to claim him as a virgin sacrifice.

For his final test to become a prefect, Emeric must determine if Vanja is guilty of serious fraud or if the Scarlet Maiden—and her claim to him—is genuine. Meanwhile, Vanja is chasing an alternative sacrifice that
could be their way out. The hunt leads her not only into the lairs of monsters and the paths of gods, but also the ties of her past. And with what should be the simplest way to save Emeric hanging over their heads,
he and Vanja must face a more dangerous question: Is there a future for a thief and a prefect, and at what price?

From the indie bestselling author Margaret Owen comes the thrilling next installment in the Little Thieves trilogy with all new interior illustrations from the author.

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PAINTED DEVILS is the thrilling and consuming sequel to LITTLE THIEVES. While it follows from the first book and it would be helpful to understand the characters, this sequel could almost be read as a stand-alone, as things are explained quite well and the scenario has changed. After leaving Emeric, Vanja is reconsidering her choices as a thief and trying to make her own way in the world when she accidentally starts a cult. Intended only to help herself out of a hard time, the cult began to take on a life of its own with Vanja as a prophet - which led to the prefects, particularly Emeric, coming to investigate.

Emeric has one final step to becoming a full prefect, and the one responsible for this has decided that this case will be it, to test his impartiality. However, judging Vanja becomes even more complicated when he is marked by the god Vanja accidentally awoke as a sacrifice. The other alternative will require them to travel to collect blood from seven brothers, a task Vanja is willing to complete alongside Emeric, while they investigate the origins of this god that does not seem bound by the laws that had been put into effect so long ago. Their journey will take them through myths and danger and the difficult elements of Vanja's personal history.

What I loved: While there was certainly much going on in terms of questing and investigations, much of this sequel was focused on Vanja's personal growth. She has been shaped by her trauma, which has led her to feel impossible to love and therefore reject those who care for her most. She is beginning to come to terms with who she is and the past that has shaped her, but her journey will really take her deeper into what she wants and what she feels she can deserve. Her growth during this book is immense, but it is not immediate, much like therapy. It will take time to heal from her past trauma and all the truths she holds as self-evident about her very nature - even as other characters can easily point out all the ways these are not true.

There is much happening in this story as far as world-building with the reader learning more about mythology and religions as well as the form of the country. In her quest to save Emeric by finding an alternative sacrifice, Vanja will find herself attempting to resolve wage fraud, unseat a cruel boss, racing a goddess, bargaining with her life, and entertaining ghosts, among other things. The world certainly fleshes out more through her journey, as does Vanja herself, who begins to learn more about her own past along the way.

The book has some really interesting themes around what binds us to others and to the world around us, religion and the flaws of thoughtless devotion, wage theft and cruelty in business practices, the limitations of the law and their inexpediency, what gives someone power, and how you define a physical relationship. Emeric was chosen as a sacrifice because he was unclaimed (reads as similar to virginity), and the way to change that is unclear as the way to define virginity is not so simple. In the context of the sacrifice, he and Vanja must define and redefine their relationship for themselves but also for the implications to his future.

I particularly found the themes around what binds us to others and to the world particularly interesting. Through various characters, the reader learns about ghosts/poltergeists who have hung around due to the way that trauma and/or negative emotions have tethered them in place. These powerful emotions have a way of preventing healing and can shape reactions in the future. There are a few ghosts/poltergeists that the reader learns about along the way that have been stuck, in a manner of speaking, because of these traumas or severe emotions. Similarly, Vanja has been shaped by her trauma, and this is what causes her to treat her relationships the way that she does - particularly with Emeric. While she does grow much during the story, she is still shaped by her past and unable to move on without healing and understanding herself - a lengthy process, even as she learns things about her past that could/might change everything she believed. Core beliefs are hard to shake, and I am curious to see how these will be resolved in the next book.

Religion and the twisting of faith for profit/gain was another intriguing theme that echoes throughout history. While Vanja accidentally started a cult, the way it manifests is altered by the intentions of those in charge, and these can have vastly different consequences. Additionally, the way that Vanja sees the world and reacts to injustices places a question of morality on her actions. While theft, spying, and the like may seem like strong negatives, if they are performed to make something right or to do good, they become questionably bad. While Vanja still sees herself as someone who makes these poor choices and is an outlaw, others see the good she is able to do through them and question her self-evaluation. There is a big juxtaposition between the way that the prefects are able (or unable) to act to resolve injustices vs the way Vanja is able. Additionally, while the prefects are mostly good, the same cannot be said of local police-like forces who are subject to bribes and inadequately handling local cases. These themes reflect more modern discussions and were quite thought-provoking.

While Vanja and Emeric remain key characters in this sequel, other secondary characters who had bigger roles in the first book have more background roles here. Similarly, there are many new characters who the reader will come to adore with their own backstories and personalities. I found it all woven together well, and appreciated meeting the new and balancing bits of seeing old friends throughout the story.

I will not say too much about the ending, but it's a cliffhanger and will certainly make readers feel a certain way. Luckily, the book is set up for another sequel, so hopefully we will continue to see the characters grow and learn alongside a new set of issues. Much like the first, the major conflicts of magic and danger are resolved in this book, so it will be a new problem facing them in the third book.

Final verdict: An enchanting YA fantasy sequel, PAINTED DEVILS brings readers a consuming new story of Vanja and Emeric with plenty of humor, thought-provoking themes, and character growth. I cannot wait to see where this will go next!
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