Once upon a time, there was a horrible girl . . .
Vanja Schmidt knows that no gift is freely given, not even a mother’s love. The adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, Vanja has long made her own way in the world as the dutiful servant of Princess Gisele. Until a year ago, when her otherworldly mothers demanded payment for their care, and Vanja decided to steal her future back . . . by stealing Gisele’s life. With the help of an enchanted string of pearls, Vanja transformed into her former mistress and took her place, leaving the real Gisele a penniless nobody. Now, Vanja leads a lonely but lucrative double life as princess and jewel thief, charming the nobility while emptying their coffers to fund her great escape. Until, one heist away from freedom, Vanja crosses the wrong god and is cursed to turn into jewels, stone by stone. With a feral guardian half-god, Gisele’s sinister fiancé, and an overeager junior detective on her tail, Vanja has just two weeks to pull off her biggest grift yet, or she risks losing more than her freedom – she could lose her life.
Thank you to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Firstly, I am obsessed by the cover. Secondly, I feel slightly empty after finishing this book, and now don’t know what to do with myself… it is very good and it made me feel a lot. It was so well executed, I was fully lost to it as soon as I started reading, and whenever I had to put it down I could think of little else until I had time to come back to it. It’s been a while since a book gave me that feeling, so I could leave it at that and it would be enough, but I’ll tell you why!
‘Once upon a time, on the coldest night of midwinter, in the darkest heart of the forest, Death and Fortune came to a crossroads.’
Starting with ‘Once upon a time…’ the way it does, it immediately feels like an old fairytale (and is actually loosely based on one – The Goose Girl), and I love any story that personifies great concepts like Death and Fortune, who we’re first introduced to. There’s something so exciting about having these mysterious and incalculable things have physical form, and I was very excited at the idea of them raising a human child together, since the prologue shows a little Vanja being left in the forest by her real mother, who cannot feed another mouth, and Death and Fortune take her in. This comes with complications, though, and with the gods nothing comes without a price, so when Vanja turns 13 they demand she choose one of them to serve in order to keep her in their realm. Vanja, though, has already been living as the servant of Princess Gisele, and rather than submitting even further, she plots to gain her freedom.
When the opportunity presents itself, Vanja steals the enchanted pearls Gisele was given by her mother, and takes the princess’ place, and when we catch up with her in the first chapter, she is acting as Gisele, using her position to rob the nobles around her and earn enough to run away and leave the influence of her godmothers behind. This first chapter is a firecracker, and Vanja is an excellent narrator. She is snarky, she is clever, and she knows the cruel realities of the world. I wanted to chase after her forever, and also wanted to give her a big hug. She’s a really good lead and I think Owen did such an amazing job fleshing her out with all her flaws, fears, and skills.
‘Once upon a time, there was a girl as cunning as the fox in winter, as hungry as the wolf at first frost, and cold as the icy wind that kept them at each other’s throats.’
Vanja’s plans are thrown, though: first, a junior inspector shows up, investigating the robberies she may or may not have committed, then Gisele’s cruel fiancé returns home and sets their wedding for two weeks’ time, and lastly Vanja is cursed by a god of the forest for robbing her subjects, and must undo the curse before she turns completely into precious gems, becoming her greed. While working on all these puzzles before her, Vanja slowly realises she can’t do this alone, so enter the excellent supporting cast of this novel. They’re all so fantastic and each bring something to the narrative! The two main ones are Ragne, the daughter of the god who cursed Vanja and a human man, sent by her mother to watch Vanja – she is naive to the way of humans, so is always direct and creates some amusing situations, but she is perceptive and brave, and becomes Vanja’s first real friend – and Emeric, the junior inspector. Emeric is a wonderful character. I loved the combination of very intelligent and somewhat dorky boy with strong, highly trained enforcer of the law. His and Vanja’s relationship is really great to follow.
As you can see, Little Thieves has a bit of everything, with some romance, some mystery, some magic, and a wonderful found family trope. It also managed to take me by surprise with its final twist, which I really enjoyed! I do have to say, though, that it’s also full of heart-wrenching moments that may be triggers for certain readers, so be sure to check out the warning page Owen has written at the start of the book if you do decide to read it. Overall, I’m so glad I decided to pick this book up, and I can already tell it’ll be one I read again. And I will definitely be reading Owen’s other books, now that I’ve had a taste of her writing. I can’t recommend Little Thieves enough, and I definitely think it’ll appeal to a wide audience, both young adults and older readers, as well as readers across various genres.
Published: 19th October 2021 by Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: fantasy, teen fiction
Narration style: first person, present tense – single narrator
Format read: eARC
Content Warnings: I will include the one found in the book itself: