Painted Devils

Holt. (Little Thieves: Bk. 2). May 2023. 512p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250831163.
Gr 9 Up–Starting the cult was almost entirely an accident. After leaving Reigenbach a reluctant hero, Vanja feels she needs to accomplish something notable to be a worthy romantic partner for Emeric and sets off on her own to find her purpose. It’s more difficult than expected, and Vanja leans hard on old skills—lying and con artistry—to get out of trouble and accidentally ends up a Prophet of the Scarlet Maiden in a small village. Junior Prefect Emeric is sent to investigate whether Vanja is committing religious fraud as a part of his final test to become a fully-fledged prefect, but their reunion is complicated when it turns out the folk ballad Vanja used for inspiration has real roots, and the sleeping goddess wakes up ready to be worshiped according to the old ways. The story braids new and familiar characters into families lost and found, pushing them towards self-worth and acceptance, and all the types of love people find themselves tied to. The sly inclusion of memes adds an additional layer of humor to Vanja’s sarcastic and self-aware narration without breaking readers out of the unique, German-flavored worldbuilding. Owen delivers another fresh, high-stakes adventure about the power of stories—particularly the ones we tell ourselves. The main cast cues white, and Vanja is demisexual.
VERDICT Owen writes at the top of her game, with this installment even stronger than Little Thieves. This series is a must-have for library collections.

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