Little Thieves by Margaret Owen
Hodder & Stoughton, hb, £11.99
Reviewed by Mikaela Silk
Greta, Giselle, Pfennigeist: these are the roles that Vanja plays so that nobody knows her real name, and she can let the girl she once was wither away and disassociate herself from the pains that that life held. At least until she can steal enough money to escape for good, and then she’ll create a new story and a new life and finally get far enough away from her godmothers, Death and Fortune, that they won’t be able to maintain their hold over her anymore. When she steals the wrong thing from the wrong person and is cursed by their patron god, it is only a small hitch in her plans. Two weeks to stop herself from being turned fully to gemstones? Easy. She hopes. Two weeks to also stop her stolen fiancé from killing her and disrupt his evil plot? It might be impossible. But she’ll try anyway.
Despite starting in the middle of the action, this book had quite a slow start. There was a lot that had happened already that needed to be explained and a lot of scene-setting to be done. It isn’t until about halfway through that the plot really picks up the pace, but the slow burn leading up to that point had me hooked. The small hints of magical interference, such as the shapeshifting Ragne, and snatches of backstory, held my interest whenever the main plot slowed down a bit. At times the presence of Death and Fortune as Vanja’s mothers felt like a secondary issue, whilst at others, it seemed to be the driving force. Either way, this continued reference served as a neat string carrying on throughout the novel and tying all the smaller points together.
The character of Vanja also took a while to grow on me. It wasn’t until she started to shed her outer icy layers and reveal more and more of the pain in her past and the resulting vulnerabilities and insecurities that I began to really love her as a character and root for her happy ending. Her realistic and relatable thoughts and fears really endeared me to her as the main character and allowed me to feel real emotion for her situation.
Vanja is the epitome of a flawed character: a greedy and selfish lying thief with very little interest outside of her own wellbeing. Yet her loyalty and her innate care for those lesser than herself eventually overcome these flaws as she undergoes some major character development throughout the book. I particularly enjoyed how this character development was inspired, not by hardship and struggle like is so often the case, but by the positive influences of letting other people into her life and allowing herself to trust them and to see herself through their eyes. To me, this seemed more realistic and lent a theme of hope to the novel. This positive spin derailed the expectations I had formed at the start of the book in the most delightful way.