Seventeen-year-old Vanja Schmidt is the thirteenth daughter of a thirteenth daughter, and wherever she goes, misfortune follows. Luckily, her godmothers are Death and Fortune, each of whom blesses Vanja with magic in exchange for a life of servitude when she comes of age. But when the time comes, Vanja flees, swiping an enchanted string of pearls that allows her to impersonate a princess. So begins a life of merry mayhem posing as a royal to rob the nobles blind. At first, Vanja is thrilled with her luck, but soon, she crosses the wrong god, and is cursed to turn into the jewels she covets, gem by gem, unless she can right her wrongs and pay back her debts—quickly.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Owen’s duology, The Merciful Crow. After finishing The Faithless Hawk, I was already ready to devour whatever she wrote next. So, a book about a maid who steals a princess’s identity, one that was confirmed to have knives and a main character with sharp edges, sounded like something I absolutely wanted to read. Trigger warnings: attempted sexual assault, physical and emotional abuse
Oh, how I love this book.
This is certainly a book with sharp edges all around, and that is something that Owen does extremely well. It’s swimming in sarcasm and delves into the wounds that were left by cruel hands.
I’m starting with Vanja because I love her. She’s quick and witty, and freaking hilarious. She’s selfish, because that’s the only way she is able to survive. She’s does not want to apologize for wanting to live. She does not want to apologize for wanting a life free from the pains forced upon her. She’s incredibly smart, ready to bend the world to her will. I want to say she’s angry, but she’s not quite angry, she’s hurting, and that comes out as harsh words and snap judgments and shields to protect herself. She is carrying so much, and on top of that, she is carrying herself, because she is the only one who is there to do it. She’s a wonderful, wonderful character, and I loved her so much, sharp edges and all.
One thing (of many haha) that Owen does well is write side characters. Because dang do I love them so. Emeric is cunningly smart, a bit awkward, has this sweetness about him, and hates horses. Ragne was just delightful, in all her shapeshifting glory. Gisele was a surprise, I wasn’t sure I was going to like her, but she turned out to be a pretty decent person. Everybody else was just as wonderful. Even the smaller characters had their own storylines, and felt completely fleshed out.
This book definitely encompassed a smaller world than The Merciful Crow, but it was just as good! Instead of focusing on the politics of an entire kingdom, this was more of a mystery/detective story. Oh boy, does that set up some wonderful shenanigans. Climbing across trellises, sneaking into offices, running from evil horses, and more. There is an entire kingdom outside the palace walls, but the story is mostly contained inside the castle and village surrounding it. It created a vast world, but a very detailed setting at the same time.
There was so much about this story that made me cry. Seriously, just some of the chapter names got me chocked up. There are scenes that are just bursting with emotions. I am in awe at how Owen was able to craft some of them, because they way they land is just, so spectacular. Emotional and gut wrenching and just so, so well done.
Speaking of emotions, I really loved how Vanja’s, and everybody’s, was handled. There is so much pain that is suffered, and the answers to it aren’t clean or easy. They are cutting words or anger or other dramatic, drastic actions. Just, there is the root, and the root is rotten to the core and horrible and needs to be plucked out. It’s hard to get into without going deep into spoiler territory, but Vanja deals with abuse and trauma and the aching need for love. She hides behind humor and the air that nothing can touch her. She’s not perfect, but she’s human. Her emotional journey was just, wow.
This book is also hilarious. Like, an insult is “a day old breadstick”. Like, how brilliant is that haha. This book is full of humor like that and I greatly admire and love how it was used throughout the book.
This book also features who demisexual characters!!! The main character and the love interest! It was fantastic!
Like in The Merciful Crow and The Faithless Hawk, there were lines in this book that just took my breath away with how good they are. Owen has a way with words, and she does how string them together to create the ultimate impact.
This book cuts like a jewel. It’s sharp, and it bleeds. It’s also one of finding love in those sharp edges, of creating something new where the rotten root is ripped out. It’s brilliantly written, and it even has a cat sometimes! It’s just so, so good. And I loved it so, so much.