Let’s get one thing straight—Vanja Schmidt wasn’t trying to start a cult.
After taking down a corrupt margrave, breaking a deadly curse, and finding romance with the vexingly scrupulous Junior Prefect Emeric Conrad, Vanja had one great mystery left: her long-lost birth family… and if they would welcome a thief. But in her search for an honest trade, she hit trouble and invented a god, the Scarlet Maiden, to scam her way out. Now, that lie is growing out of control—especially when Emeric arrives to investigate, and the Scarlet Maiden manifests to claim him as a virgin sacrifice.
For his final test to become a prefect, Emeric must determine if Vanja is guilty of serious fraud, or if the Scarlet Maiden—and her claim to him—are genuine. Meanwhile, Vanja is chasing an alternative sacrifice that may be their way out. The hunt leads her not only into the lairs of monsters and the paths of gods, but the ties of her past. And with what should be the simplest way to save Emeric hanging over their heads, he and Vanja must face a more dangerous question: Is there a future for a thief and a prefect, and at what price?
Title : Painted Devils
Author : Margaret Owen
Series : Little Thieves (book two)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 512
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Release Date : May 16, 2023
Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5
Hollis’ 4.5 star review
When I tell you that Owen has some kind of magic touch? I am not kidding. I pulled out the big guns by starting this ARC when I feared I was slipping into a reading slump and ka-pow, slump say who? Not I! This was exactly what I needed. Everything I needed. Or, conversely, it proved I just wasn’t picking up good quality reads — or, maybe more fairly, I wasn’t picking up reads that were for me.
But Painted Devils? Pretty much a chefs. fucking. kiss.
Admittedly, it’s not getting rounded up to a five like the series opener did but I think that’s fair. Measuring up to that perfection would be hard, even for this much-beloved-by-me author, even with these utterly-adored-by-me characters.
“You are an unparalleled devil from hell in your sleep.”
“You stole all the blankets. And then you rolled up in them, like a– a crêpe, so they were stuck on your side. And then when I tried to take one off the top, you turned over, looked me straight in the eye, and said — and I quote — ‘I’ll kill you.‘”
“You followed it up with ‘It’ll look like an accident.’“
Honestly, it’s going to be a hard sell to convince you to pick this up if you haven’t already read book one so maybe go read that one and then come back to this. Not that I’ll be spoiling anything but honestly your investment will be low until you unlock the initial achievement. But everything Owen did with book one — the laughs, the fun, the emotes, the glee, the shock — she’s come back to sock you in the teeth with all over again. Because I laughed like a little girl (I was | | close to kicking my feet in the air). I cried like a little girl (maybe only once but I got teary/choked up a whole bunch of times). And I got mad like.. okay, I’ll stop saying little girl, but hoo boy. I got mad.
[..] it’s almost a bit unnerving how quickly everyone joined Team Blood Sacrifices Are Great, Actually.
I had totally forgot about much (most?) of the trauma that Vanja had endured throughout her life. And this book has her facing a lot of it. The conflict, in fact, is woven up with some of the origins of it all. But it was done so beautifully. It broke my heart, too, because much of this book is about learning to love yourself. And that’s a painful process. Especially when your formative years have done everything to destroy the potential and even now you’re faced with constant reminders that you are unworthy. That there’s no reason to be good, to be better, to be anything but what you’ve been ground down to believe you are — which, in Vanja’s case, is worthless. Which is why she struggles with Emeric because how can she trust the love of another when she’s always been unworthy of it? How can she trust that love when she’s never been made to see it in herself? There was so much tenderness in how Owen handled this. And that tenderness carried over in how they approached the intimacy of their romance.
The cold truth is, some part of me is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it’s for no good reason other than the truth beneath, colder still : [..] I cannot believe someone would want me, without agenda, as I am.
Also, Emeric being Vanja’s number one stan? We love to see it. It wasn’t always smooth sailing but I loved how they handled the rougher moments, the misunderstandings, and how in-tune to each other they were.
“If more prefects were like you.. I think the empire would make fewer girls like me.”
“Well, I think that would be a terrible loss. The.. fewer-people-like-you part. Not the reduction of gross societal injustice.”
I want to be able talk about the little (big) realizations they have about their society, their ability to influence it, and how the struggle to use the laws to help those who need it is.. well, a struggle. And whether it’s better to work outside the system then in it, with it, and all that, but honestly I don’t feel eloquent enough to tackle that. Just know that I saw it, I see it, and I love it. And I hope we get more of in in book three.
This book is also about family. The ones we find, the ones we make, and the ones we’re born to. And oh boy getting misty again. Ahem, but yes, the ties that bind play a big part and I absolutely loved how this played out. Even the parts that hurt.
And you know what else hurt? That ending. Aaaa it was bad enough knowing we had two years to wait after book one but at least that resolution felt, well. Resolved. It almost felt like a standalone. This one is anything but that and I am quietly dying inside. But GR says book three is out in January.. which feels improbable. But I am not going to look a gift horse (hahaha the horses) in the mouth.
It turns out there are few things that kill the mood faster than realizing you have a haunted doll for a voyeur.
Also, shoutout, because I don’t know if I remember there being as many references or memes in book one but we had a few in this one and a few had me howling. The Backstreet Boys bit? I legit cried. More of this please!
As you can probably guess, I highly recommend not only this series but also this author. She’s one of the few releasing YA that I’m guaranteed to pick up these days — but honestly, at this rate, I’ll pick up literally anything she releases and always be desperate for more. Like I am now.
** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **