Little Thieves by Margaret Owen
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.
Vanja Schmidt has stolen her weight in gold.
And then some, most like. As the Pfennigeist, she steals from the nobility, and…does not give back to the poor. In fact, since stealing the identity of the princess who was once her best friend, she steals only for herself. With enough heists, she plans to raise the funds to escape the looming threat of her godmothers, Death and Fortune. Even gods can’t reach her if she can fund an escape an entire world away.
But when her latest heist draws the ire of another god, she finds herself with more pressing matters to deal with. Bit by bit, she is turning into precious gems, and by the full moon, there will be nothing left of her otherwise. Unless she breaks the curse, outsmarts the investigation into the Pfennigeist, and somehow gathers those last jewels to secure passage to other lands, she can forget about her future.
But Vanja Schmidt has had years to practice her arts, and this? This is just another grift.
I know you’re sick of me comparing things to Leverage, but listen. Please. I’m begging you.
Little Thieves is a one-woman Leverage set in fantasy Germany, and I would die for this book.
Seriously. Within the first few pages, I already knew Vanja would go on to become on of my favorite characters of all time, and now that I’ve reached the end, I can confirm my hunch was right. I can also say I’m actually dying waiting to read Painted Devils. Not only is the summary incredibly funny once you know exactly what happens in Little Thieves, but also, I can’t wait to see my beloved terrible goose girl bring more chaos down on another set of unsuspecting victims.
Anyway, really. Vanja is a master at running cons by herself. She’s had to do so much simply to survive, especially in the days before taking the real Gisele’s place, and watching her go toe to toe with forces that have the potential to be more dangerous than she is gives me life. Occasionally, someone comes close to outsmarting her (namely Emeric, junior detective, collection of billiard cues unionized to solve crimes, secretly insufferable but delightful little turd), but she is so good at staying one step ahead, at holding the keys to the con in the palm of her hand or tucked up her sleeves.
Every single page is a joy, and trying to understand how she’s going to get herself out of each subsequent mess is thrilling. I absolutely live for books like this, where every detail matters, where distractions appeal even as they obscure. Little Thieves is clever and twisty and sharp to the last!
“No one should fault you for wanting to live.”
Here’s the thing, though: Little Thieves is also filled with incredible heart. It’s a retelling of The Goose Girl, but instead of the maid being wicked and the princess being without fault, it’s got a maid who might be wicked to some, but deserves basic kindness and love despite her lower social status. Vanja, once that maid, didn’t steal Gisele’s identity for fun. She didn’t steal it for comfort.
Vanja stole Gisele’s identity, her entire life, because she was facing eternity as a servant to someone else if she didn’t take that chance. Because no one else in the world looked out for her, so she took her chances looking after herself. All this time, she has been abused and forgotten, and now, with power in her grasp, she’s not looking to make nice. Instead, she wants total freedom, escape from the world and the people that failed her. If those people suffer along the way, why not? She can have a good laugh at their expense.
And yet there’s still more to Vanja than selfishness born from a lifetime of being folded down small and cast aside. She has immense courage and wits no other character can boast, and when she at last lets down her walls and accepts her true allies, she becomes someone totally new.
I love her story, and I love the way the cast learns to care for her, even as she in turn begins to truly care for them. Little Thieves takes care never to dull her sharp edges, but to show that she is still worthy of love and affection and friendship.
There’s still so much about Little Thieves that I could go on about.
However, I don’t want to spoil things. With a book like this, it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible beyond the summary on the dust jacket. You’re going to want all the surprises, the suspense!
But I have to reiterate: this book is amazing. It’s smart and charming, and sometimes, it even stings. There’s an amazing trueness to the fairy tale it’s based on, even as it barrels headlong in a new direction, and there’s also a whole host of characters that bring more life than ever to the story.
If you want a book that’s going to take you on a ride, Little Thieves is it. Political intrigue? You got it. Con artistry? In spades. Basically every feeling ever, from overwhelming mischief to gut-wrenching betrayal? Count on it.
Pick up Little Thieves, and keep your eye on Vanja. It’s hard telling what she’ll do next, but you can trust that it will change everything.
CW: nudity, drug use, addiction, child abuse, violence, gore, sexual assault, loss of a loved one