• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Story Thieves (Story Thieves #1) by James Riley

Riley has crafted a middle-grade fantasy book with humor, adventure, characters to root for, and heart and depth that surprised me. I'll definitely read the next in this series.

In James Riley's middle-grade fantasy book Story Thieves, young introvert Bethany and impulsive Owen are, hesitantly, new friends. They both love books, and they keep running into each other, both in class and at the library where Owen's mom works--and where Bethany seems to spend all of her time.

They live in a world that feels like our own, with one important distinction. Because of her own origins, practical Bethany has the power to jump in and out of books, immersing herself in the fictional world of each story she enters. Responsible as she is, she makes sure to keep to the background so as not to change a story or appear on its pages. That is, until excitable Owen gets involved.

This setup might have felt gimmicky or too convoluted, but Riley uses a sure hand: the logistics of how it all works are laid out as we dive in; we briefly dabble in well-known books and characters at times; and the author builds a rich book within a book and world within a world. Story Thieves has humor, adventure, characters to root for--and satisfying and intriguing intersections between Bethany and Owen and the fictional characters they encounter.

Riley's characters have some heartiness to their back stories, and concepts of grief and imperfect parents are part of the book. Perhaps most satisfyingly, he allows a hard-fought loyalty to emerge between Bethany and Owen.

I was surprised by the heart and depth in this fantasy book. The cover looked more juvenile than the story felt, so for me, it set a tone that conflicted somewhat with what was inside. I laughed, rooted for the main protagonists and their allies, and loved the twists and turns and realizations--as well as the resolutions and the fantastic setup for the next middle-grade book in the series.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Story Thieves is the first in a five-book series by James Riley. My son and I had fun reading this one together, and we're both excited to read the next one.

Riley is also the author of the Half Upon a Time and Revenge of Magic series.