REVIEW: Painted Devils by Margaret Owen

Last Updated on May 29, 2023

Margaret Owen’s Painted Devils reunites us with some of our favourite characters from last year’s Little Thieves. The story is once again centred around chaotic disaster con artist Vanja Schmidt, and junior prefect Emeric Conrad. While the first book was mostly a straight-forward retelling of the Goose Girl fairy tale with great characters, well-written demisexuality and a heck of a lot of moral greyness, this second instalment in the series takes things up a notch. Because in a world where gods are very real, what happens if you accidentally start a cult? And one demanding a human sacrifice at that?

Cover of Painted Devils by Margaret OwenThat’s exactly where Vanja finds herself in Painted Devils. Emeric has gone to take his final test to become a prefect, and she is due to follow him… Except she gets cold feet and ends up inventing a Scarlet Maiden to get help from villagers when she needs it – because it is Vanja’s nature to lie rather than admit she is in a pickle. And then, things start happening. The village prospers and Vanja finds a place as something of a prophet. Until Emeric shows up, that is. With a Prefect Emeritus in tow, he has been sent to investigate claims of a false god, only to be claimed as a virgin sacrifice by the manifested Scarlet Maiden on arrival. Oops. Vanja needs to figure a way out and fast.

Painted Devils is in turn hilarious, touching and dark. The dark elements are definitely stronger in this second book than in the first, as the central themes and their stakes are bigger and more personal. We spend a lot of time learning about Vanja’s backstory, as she figures out what truly happened to her to make her the goddaughter of Death and Fortune, as she decides who she wants to be and who she wants to become. Another central theme is justice. What is justice, how does justice correlate to truth (both truth as in the objective truth and Truth as in the deity). In this, we have three core perspectives fighting each other throughout the story. Vanja, who is willing to do anything and everything for what she believes is the right and just thing, irrespective of laws or consequences – chaotic neutral if you will. Emeric, who has wanted nothing more than to become a prefect, but is starting to see that perhaps the law is very rigid if followed by the letter rather than the spirit, and believing in a sort of greater good mentality. And then there’s the Prefect Emeritus, following the letter of the law at all times and causing more harm than good. Justice becomes an interesting evaluation of morality, which makes Painted Devils an great light option for the Grimdark reader.

I also appreciated the theme of sacrifice. It is central to the story both on a literal and a metaphorical level, to the past and the present, the religious aspect and the tangible every day. It is one of the things that gives this series a lot of depth, despite its light writing style and sense of humour. As with Little Thieves, I devoured Painted Devils over the course of a day, cramming it into work breaks wherever possible. These books are compelling and have great narrative tension – and best of all, they are illustrated beautifully by the author. A winning package, once more.

Read Painted Devils by Margaret Owen

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.