Book Review: Little Thieves by Margaret Owen

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Fairytale Retelling
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Publication Date: October 19th, 2021
Pages: 512, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

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.

Once, many moons ago when I was just a baby Miranda, my friend and I were obsessed with a comic on deviantART. It was part of a challenge where several different artists created characters and storylines set in a world that the person in charge of the challenge had created. Week by week, the artists would post their own comics, and people would vote on which story and characters could go through to the next round.

My friend and I loved the storyline following two outlaws, Annie and the Professor (or as Annie called him, Ginger.) It was hilarious, the characters were well crafted, and the storyline was moving. I loved it so much, in fact, that I followed the artist for the next fifteen years, because I wanted to see what else she would eventually put out.

The artist was Margaret Owen, and I am so excited to be able to read her books.

Little Thieves is a loose retelling of The Goose Girl but focused on the villain of the story, the maid who steals the princess’ life. When Vanja steals something she shouldn’t and is then cursed by a Low God to repay her debt, she has only two weeks to break the curse before she turns to jewels.

To say this book is a triumph is an understatement. Owen takes the fairytale of The Goose Girl and upends it while still keeping the recognizable bits of the tale. It’s creative and the way she uses the bits from the fairytale make sense, in a way that leaves you thinking, “How did she come up with that?” I read the book almost entirely in one sitting. That’s how much I enjoyed it.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most was how clearly Owen has taken her ability to create comics and translated it into prose. Little Thieves is bursting with detail that I could visualize very easily simply because Owen knew how to describe what she was seeing artistically in her head into words. I sometimes have trouble picturing what an author is trying to describe; I didn’t have an issue here.

All of the things I loved about Margaret Owen’s comic on deviantART years ago are present in Little Thieves as well: Wonderfully layered characters, hilarious banter, an interesting world, and a romantic arc that made me squee. Yes, squee. Vanja herself is one of the best YA characters I’ve read in a long while. She does horrible things, yes, but given the world she grew up in, it makes sense. Owen treats her both with sympathy but also making certain she does, indeed, pay her debts. If the book had simply been entirely of banter between her and Emeric, I would have been over the moon. Owen simply has a way with words that can make you laugh like a donkey — then pages later, she’ll have you tearing up.

Some readers may find the villain to be lacking in nuance, but frankly, the world is full of men like the villain, and I find him all too believably real. The ending may also lack a bit of a punch to some readers; again, I didn’t mind it.

I honestly have very little else to say except that I adored Little Thieves, and I’m so looking forward to everything else Owen releases in the future.

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