Cover of Painted Devils, featuring two figured with their backs to each other and a hooded red figure hovering in the background

About the Book

Title: Painted Devils (Little Thieves #2)
Published: 2023

Cover Story: Back to Back
BFF Charm: Heck Yes
Talky Talk: Wit Beyond Measure
Bonus Factors: Real (Sex) Talk, LGBTQ+ Representation
Factor: Cults
Anti-Bonus Factors: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting, Middle Sibling Book
Relationship Status: Honeymoon Period

Red alert! Painted Devils is the second book in the Little Thieves series. If you have not read the first book in the series (Little Thieves), man your battle stations turn away now, as there might be spoilers in this review. If you’re caught up, however, feel free to continue below.

Content Warning: Owen includes this warning at the start of Painted Devils: “This is a story about many things, but especially, love. There are discussions of physical intimacy, abusive environments, and the road to loving yourself when you have spent so long walking a path of thorns. I can’t say if this will bring comfort, only that it is brought with care. In the end, this is a story of love—so above all, care for yourself.”

Cover Story: Back to Back

I love the duality of this cover; it seems both like Emeric and Vanja have each other’s backs, but also the body language and the space between indicate that not everything is perfect in that relationship. There’s hesitancy and fear there, unfortunately. And the red figure in the back definitely doesn’t look like a benevolent one.

The Deal: 

Vanja Schmidt, sometime thief and liar, sometime savior of the people, had every intention of meeting Junior Prefect Emeric Conrad in Helligbrüke and starting a new life together, free of the events in Minjka (and away from the statue of her there). But then she gets drunk one night, stumbles into a small town singing an old folk song and ends up starting a cult—and maybe accidentally willing a new Low God into being.

Enter now Aspirant Prefect Emeric, fighting a broken heart thanks to being ghosted and on his final test before becoming a full-fledged Prefect—a test that involves investigating Vanja (again) and trying to support her while doing his best to keep his biases in check.

BFF Charm: Heck Yes

BFF Charm Heck Yes - sparklier and shinier than the original BFF Charm

I was initially torn about wanting to be Vanja’s friend in Little Thieves, particularly because of her penchant to push folks away and her tendency to put herself before others. I understand her better now, and Painted Devils made me realize that, more than anything, she needs people in her corner who will support her efforts to make her world a better place—even if those efforts frequently skirt the line between what’s legal and what’s not (and sometimes leap over that line completely). She’s snarky and hilarious, too. We all need friends in our lives who can make jokes at inappropriate times to ease the tension.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Emeric and Vanja quickly pick back up where they left off in Little Thieves, after a valuable discussion about the reasons Vanja never made it to Helligbrüke and a whole lot of understanding on Emeric’s part. They continue their semi-slow pace toward full intimacy (more on that below), expedited by circumstances beyond their control, sweetly exploring what they mean to each other and what their feelings, in general, mean for their own selves.

Talky Talk: Wit Beyond Measure

Owen is one of the wittiest YA authors currently publishing books, full stop. Her books never fail to make me laugh out loud, even when they’re dealing with some pretty heady stuff (cults, looming sacrifices, motherly abandonment, etc.). I love her metaphors, her jokes, and her ability to make her characters feel real.

So she did what any rational person would do, having cut herself off from her loved ones, failed to find gainful employ after two straight weeks of searching, and then drunkenly ejected most of her personal wealth into a river in the wee hours of what could generously be called the butthole of winter.

She gave up.

She lay facedown on the dung-stained boards of the bridge and cried. She cried like a routed general. She cried like a jilted bride. She cried like a two-year-old who has been told they cannot eat rocks.

This was, admittedly, not her proudest moment. But can you blame her?

(I mean, you can, and you should. Saints and martyrs, I certainly do. Brace yourself: It’s only going to get worse from here.)

Bonus Factor: Real (Sex) Talk

two pairs of feet showing under covers

Emeric and Vanja are coded, both, as demisexuals, although the term isn’t used in the books (and, truthfully, doesn’t need to be). In Little Thieves, they struggled with their attraction, in part to them being on the opposite sides of the law, and in part because neither of them had ever really experienced such feelings, for anyone—and Vanja sometimes wondered if she even could. In Painted Devils, they lean into those feelings, but Owen does something unexpected (at least, by this YA reader): she actually shows that they’re inexperienced and awkward and unknowledgeable. I certainly didn’t have much experience in the more intimate side of things at 17, and I truly appreciate Owen not making her teenage protagonists sexual mavens.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ+ Representation

Pride flag being waved in a parade

In addition to Vanja and Emeric, there are a variety of other queer characters in Painted Devils, from non-binary folks who use they/them pronouns—seamlessly, I might add—and a trans man.

Factor: Cults

Vanja’s accidental cult begins as a pretty innocuous group but quickly slides into Heaven’s Gate territory. In general, I find cults fascinating, but things get real sketchy with the Red Blessed (or Blesséd, depending on who you ask) so I can’t rightly say it’s a bonus factor.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting

Evil Dan Scott from One Tree Hill

If you’ve read Little Thieves—which, if you’ve gotten this far in this review, I sincerely hope you have—you know Vanja’s mother was a terrible person. No spoilers, but Painted Devils drives that knowledge home, and then some.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Middle Sibling Book

Jan Brady from the Brady Bunch Movies with a sneer on her face

I assumed (you know …) that Painted Devils was a conclusion to this series. And until the very last chapter in the book, I was satisfied—nay, happy—with the way things were wrapping up. HOWEVER, Owen had to shank us with the ending, and although I have faith in her ability to fix things in the next book, I’m going to be mad for a while yet.

(In her Acknowledgments, she writes: “[Thanks to] The readers who have managed to restore my HP throughout 2021 and 2022 through their lovely and heartfelt reviews, emails, fan art, photos, playlists, cosplays—truly an embarrassment of riches. I’m so glad the book found you. You’re probably very worried now after that ending, but have a little faith. (Just not enough to fake a god.).”)

Relationship Status: Honeymoon Period

I adore you, Book, even if you did unexpectedly make me cry in the end. I know we can work things out—any good relationship has its ups and down—but I can’t quite believe you did what you did after we had such a good time.

Literary Matchmaking

The Merciful Crow (The Merciful Crow #1)

If you want more of Owen’s wit, be sure to check out her debut series, The Merciful Crow.

Forged in Fire and Stars (Loresmith #1)

Andrea Robertson’s Loresmith series also features folks on a quest to thwart a questionable god.

Gilded (Gilded #1)

And Marissa Meyer’s Gilded and Cursed have an equally fascinating (and meddlesome?) set of gods.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Painted Devils is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.