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.
*I was sent an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – thank you so so much to Hodder & Stoughton for the chance to read this one early*
You know when a book just speaks to you? When there’s those specific moments of dialogue or the characters thoughts that just sink their hooks right into a tender spot and won’t let go? Well Little Thieves had plenty of those and while I didn’t expect to have such an emotional response to this book, it was also incredibly cathartic. I also loved the content warning / authors note at the start of the novel which detailed potential triggers. Thank you to Margaret Owen for including this and being so considerate with the wording. ‘I know my scars’ and I know other readers do too and will read that passage and feel seen and heard and will be able to go in more prepared because of it.
I loved the basis of the story and the writing style because from pretty much the first couple pages I was hooked. This is my first time reading any of Owen’s writing but I definitely want to go read her other book series The Merciful Crow now. The prose is just really pretty and I highlighted so many lines from this novel like seriously if you saw my kindle notes for this, there’s A LOT. I think the interspersing of the ‘storybook / allegory’ sections with Vanja’s narrative is done so well, I can’t wait to see the fan art from this novel because it’s so rich with potential.
I also liked that this book is a little bit of everything, like a coming of age type story set against the fantasy backdrop with a mystery at it’s core too.
Let’s start with what I loved about this book, beginning with our protagonist and resident jewel thief, Vanja. I loved Vanja. LOVED her. She was whip smart, sarcastic, full of whitty remarks, teasing and bold but also so vulnerable with a yearning to be loved buried underneath all her armour. I really enjoyed following her journey and how far she comes from the opening of the novel. While the curse from Eiswald, a forest spirit of sorts seems like a damning one, it sets Vanja on a journey of self discovery which ends up bringing so much more to her life than just an eruption of jewels across her skin.
I also appreciated how Vanja’s pain and trauma is never trivialised and is an important part of the novel without it feeling exploitative. Vanja is a character that has had to bury her softness and hone her sharp edges, because of how her life has been and how others have treated her. The only person she has been able to rely on consistently is herself and there’s something so heartbreaking about that which results in some truly powerful moments in the novel. These moments are even more striking and hopeful as she finds herself opening up gradually and learning to trust friends old and new, slowly but surely.
As well as a compelling protagonist, the novel is enriched with the well developed side characters who are also pivotal to the story. We have Gisele who Vanja has been imitating for over a year. Despite growing up together and being as close as sisters, their differing stations in life and Gisele’s own ignorance of the harsher realities of Vanja’s life causes a huge rift between the two. I didn’t expect to like Gisele but I kind of did? I liked that the characters were ‘allowed’ to be imperfect and also grow and forgive because that’s just reality and it made them more interesting for it.
I also adored Ragne, a shape shifting spirit who is fiercely loyal, funny and just an all round gem. Emeric is the opposite of 99% of Y/A love interests in that he’s more likely to recite text from a dusty old law book than waxing poetic about the protagonists beauty and is literally described as a ‘pocket calculator’ by Vanja but he’s sweet, earnest and is utterly flustered by our resident thief and it’s just so cute to read. I liked their dynamic so much, Vanja loves to run and Emeric promises to follow her wherever she goes and I don’t know about you but I always love that trope. Plus they’re both demi-sexual and I’ve personally hardly seen this rep in novels so that’s another great element.
In short, if this review wasn’t enough to convince you: Little Thieves is brilliant in all ways and I can’t recommend it enough. Go read it, buy it, support it, or Vanja might come after you in a vengeful fit.
Until next time,