Secret Origins: Story Thieves, Book 3

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Secret Origins: Story Thieves, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Comic-book shenanigans, big issues in zany sequel.

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Kids say

age 8+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The many strange comic book worlds here offer an opportunity to ponder such issues as why the "science" that works in comic books tends to be a bit different from the science in our world. Like, would a green sun give humans superpowers? Also, are some things that look like magic really just advanced science? Besides comic books and their characters, occasional references to other books, such as The Dark Is Rising.

Positive Messages

An emerging message, as characters pop in and out of fictional tales and, in some cases, try to change their own stories from outside the frame: You don't have to be defined by your author -- even if you're a figment of somebody's imagination. Courage, self-sacrifice, creative thinking, and teamwork all are important to the story. So are forgiveness, a sense of humor, and a willingness to overlook differences.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Once again, characters find many creative ways to support one another and work as a team, even if they're not exactly in the same world at the time. Bethany and Owen in particular are good friends to each other and to other characters. Bethany's quest to find her long-lost father, who may be in real trouble, is a strong theme, as is regular-kid Owen's struggle to do the right thing even when he's not at all sure what's going on. One of the characters refuses to get involved in violence, which really annoys another character who wants to blast everything and everyone with ray guns. Adult characters, from the kids' parents to the authors of assorted stories -- including Story Thieves -- range from world-saving heroes to villains enslaved by the dark side. A fictional villain drags his terrified creator into his world.

Violence & Scariness

Comic-book-style violence aplenty, from robot-zapping to volcanoes destroying planets. One character is really fond of using her ray guns on whatever annoys her and sometimes just for fun. A village has zombie-like residents who've been taken over by a dark, shadowy villain, whose shadow-like probes fill their victims with resentment and rage. One character is missing and his fate unknown for the entire book; we're not sure whether several other characters who suffer abrupt, traumatic exits will return or are gone for good.


One character, in a moment of frustration, calls someone else a "jerk." A minor villain's powers involve lots of "snot."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Secret Origins is the newest installment in the Story Thieves series and Book 3 of a new three-volume box set. But if you're expecting a nice conclusion that resolves all the issues of Books 1 and 2, this is not that book. Instead, by the final page, author James Riley has all but run out of cliffs from which to hang plot threads, and he drops numerous broad hints that Story Thieves, so far, has been a mere prequel to untold future shenanigans -- especially the soon-to-be-released Book 4, Story Thieves: Pick a Plot. There's some cartoonish violence -- ray guns, robots, destroyed planets -- and a tad more realistic scary stuff, as when a cartoon villain snatches his creator away into another world. Some tween characters have a bit of romantic interest in other characters, but they're also at the "romance ruins everything" age when it comes to storylines. As with previous volumes, not every kid will love the anything-can-happen craziness, but the brave young heroes (now about age 12 and 13) and their sidekicks have a lot of appeal as they try to solve mysteries and foil villains.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byJohnny draws June 15, 2018


This book is amazing! It has everything you could ever want! 10/10
Teen, 13 years old Written byriordanverse February 19, 2021
i really enjoyed it!! its a great fantasy that i think kids of all ages would enjoy! it has some si-fi, and its mostly fantasy. there are also great characters... Continue reading

What's the story?

SECRET ORIGINS are big in the third installment of the Story Thieves series. Who is the terrible, shadowy arch-villain the Dark -- and how did he get this way? The mysterious Nobody, popping in and out of storylines -- same questions. Who -- and where and why -- is Bethany's long-lost father? Also, what does he have to do with superhero Captain Twilight? Once again, it's a crazy mash-up of "real" and "fictional" worlds as regular kid Owen (who still hopes to get superpowers on his 13th birthday) and world-hopping friend Bethany, along with some of their pals from earlier books, face many perils in the worlds of assorted comic books. Dodging killer robots, cosmic doom, and cranky authors, they're all about seeking a happy father-daughter reunion. But is that what the timeline has in store?

Is it any good?

Fans will be captivated by the latest adventures and shifting universes of Bethany and Owen, wonder what's become of absent characters, and look forward to wherever this zany series goes next. Author James Riley runs out of cliffs to hang plot threads from in this non-conclusion of the wacky Story Thieves "trilogy," which proves to be just a prequel to many more installments to come. Between the references to the first two books and frequent mentions of the forthcoming Story Thieves: Pick a Plot, Secret Origins sometimes feels like a madcap infomercial.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about when the shadows take over the characters in Secret Origins. They suddenly get very angry for no real reason. Have you ever felt like that? What did you do? How did it turn out?

  • What are your favorite comic books and superheroes? Why do you like them?

  • If someone in your life had a secret identity as a superhero, who would it be? What powers would they have?

Book details

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For kids who love fantasy and adventure

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