Young adult fairytale twists are the thing of the future. From Marissa Meyer's The Lunar Chronicles, Heartless, and Gilded, to Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, fairytale twists written for young adults are becoming increasingly more popular as the years wear on. And with books like Little Thieves, it's no wonder why.
FUN FACT: Fairy tales were actually originally written for adults, something that isn't a surprise if you read the original tales with all the Grimm gore they include (don't mind my pun there). It wasn't until the 19th and 20th centuries that fairytales were labeled as "children's literature." So when fairytales are re-written for young adults now, it's really like they are just being returned to their original audience!
And Little Thieves is certainly intended for a young adult audience. Between Vanja's greed, curse, and ability to run into literal nightmares (demons that control your sleep!) and other deathly creatures, the book is chock full of things unsuitable for children but perfect for young adults.
Little Thieves tells the story of Vanja, goddaughter of Death and Fortune. When she was little, her mother gave her up to the gods and now, she must decide one of them to serve forever. Only she doesn't plan to do that, instead, she plans to escape the empire (and her mothers) with a small fortune to get her going.
How will she do it? Well, a year ago she stole the pearls that made her mistress pretty. Now she walks around as the Prinzessin Gisele (and her maid Marthe) and no one is the wiser. She uses this advantage to steal from many of the nobles she happens to have as acquaintances, leaving only a red penny and questions behind.
Only now she has stolen something she shouldn't have–a ring that gave the nobles it belonged to the protection of a third god, Eiswald. Now she is cursed to slowly turn to gemstones until she dies unless she can "make up for" what she has stolen.
With a prefect (the best of the best law enforcement with magic to boost) on her trail, her fiance back and plotting to both marry and kill her, and her godmothers desperately trying to force her into lifelong servitude, Vanja is stuck between multiple rocks and hard places with no way to turn for help and no one to receive much-needed human affection from. Can she solve 100 problems before time runs out?
There are way too many things to say about this book so I will simplify it for you: THIS BOOK IS AMAZING!
I could literally go on raving about this book for days because of how awesome it is but let me make a list of a few of the things I loved most about it instead:
It is a fairytale twist. If you know me at all, you know I enjoy fairytale twists. If they are done well, then they are some of the very best books. My favorites are the ones that take a tale and twist it beyond recognition (i.e. the tale is no longer set in the same setting, the characters aren't exactly the same, and the story is different.) and yet include enough plot points and details to link it back to the stories and make you find more each time you read. For example, in The Lunar Chronicles, the stories are set in the future and in space. The characters are placed in our world (give or take) but with future technology and other futuristic elements. The stories are very different but still stick to the same plot for the most part. AND they have random awesome details. Here's one of my favorites: In Cress, Carswell Thorne attempts to rescue Cress (Rapunzel) but their satellite falls into the Sahara and he is blinded. If you've read the original tale, you'll know the prince, upon attempting to rescue the princess, falls into thorns and is blinded by them and then the two are cast into the desert and have to find one another!
Owen twists her tale just as well. Little Thieves is based on The Goose Girl which is not a tale I know well so I did need to look it up. Here are some of the major details of the fairytale:
There are four characters that are important: the princess, the princess's maid, a geese herder named "Conrad" and the king. In Little Thieves, these characters correspond to Gisele, Vanja, Emeric Conrad, and Adalbrecht (the controlling practically-a-king guy).
In the beginning of the story, the princess has a "charm" that protects her against evil. This falls off her and floats away at which time the maid swaps clothes with her and takes her place. Very similarly to Vanja stealing the pearls that make her look like the Prinzessin.
The princess has a beloved talking horse named Falada who is killed by the maid in the story. In The Goose Girl, the princess begs for the dead horse's head to be nailed to a wall so she can talk to the horse's head (a little creepy if you ask me). I won't tell you what happens in Little Thieves but Falada definitely plays a similar role.
The king tricks the maid (who, mind you, is evil in the original tale) into choosing her own punishment. She chooses being dragged through town naked in a barrel of spikes (I did tell you fairytales were originally meant for adults!). This may or may not arise somewhat in Little Thieves.
What else did I enjoy about the book? The characters, the plot, the setting. Really everything. Owen builds a world really well so that it is intricate enough to seem thoroughly real and wholly new and at the same time, simple enough for the reader to understand it. She does a really good job of explaining what needs to be explained and doing it in sneaky ways so there are never pages and pages of boring descriptions or explanations. Instead, you as the reader are constantly gripped by the book and drawn into Vanja's world.
As a side note, I honestly can't figure out if she based the world off of a current culture or made up her own. Many of the words in the world seem German or Dutch but they aren't quite (at least not according to google translate). The world also almost has a Russian feel to it in my opinion. It is a really great blend. Great job on the worldbuilding really.
I also loved the depth of character. One thing I truly appreciated was the sexual references without sex! The book didn't erase sex from the land–that would be unrealistic. So there were sexual references in plenty of the scenes. For example, the protagonist travels through a slum at one point where prostitutes are advertising their wares (vocally not visually). A second character keeps asking the meaning of different slang and the protagonist gets flustered and awkward. She knows some of the answers but not all of them because she has never had sex. In another scene, the protagonist tries to flirt and make someone feel awkward whilst not really knowing what she's referring to. I found all of this refreshing and relatable as opposed to many young adult novels in which the characters themselves are having sex. I thought this was good humor and realistic without being in your face about it.
But one of my favorite things about the book was the plot. There were so many elements to this plot. First, the godmothers who wouldn't let Vanja out of being forced into a life of servitude. Then the curse from the other goddess. And Vanja's need to steal money to escape the godmothers while not stealing money so she could escape the curse. A book literally could have been written just on this.
But that wasn't all. Because there was also the prefect chasing Vanja because of all that she'd stolen. And Adalbrecht, home and wanting to marry Vanja (disguised at the Prinzessin) in two weeks. Plus, she's meeting a lot of different deathly challenges. And the prefect seems more interested in investigating Adalbrect than her. Anyways, why does Adalbrecht want to get married so fast?
There are so many things going on in the book that it could have been overwhelming and too hard to keep track of. But it's not. Instead, it actually flows really well and the author does a great job of managing it so that you never see what's coming next. There are constant plot twists and the storyline is ever-changing. I am honestly astounded, looking back at the amount of worldbuilding and plot that Owen fit into the book that is just over 500 pgs without compromising the character-building or anything else.
Seriously, if you have not read this book, do so. It is 6/5 stars for sure and 100% would read again. I have noted that there is a second book coming out that looks AMAZING but I cannot wait over a year (it comes in Feb. 2023) for it to come out.