In a six-house auction, Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, has acquired Thieves’ Gambit, part of a YA duology by Kayvion Lewis, a youth services librarian and author of The Half-Class, a fantasy novel published by independent press Parliament House. Chelsea Eberly, director of Greenhouse Literary Agency, sold North American rights to associate publisher Stacey Barney in a two-day, seven-figure auction.
Barney called Thieves’ Gambit “one of the most inventive, breathless, exciting reads I’ve ever had the privilege to edit. The plot plays out like a movie; the characters are deliciously devious and the twists just keep coming. Kayvion is a master storyteller and this publication will be an event not to be missed.”
Eberly described the book as a “cinematic” crossover YA that will appeal to readers who love dangerous romance in a high-stakes competition such as Caraval, A Poison Steeped in Magic, and the adult bestseller Portrait of a Thief. In her pitch, she called Thieves’ Gambit “a cutthroat competition for the world’s best thieves and the teen girl who must win to save her parents’ lives,” comparing the story’s twists, turns and secrets to The Inheritance Games and Ocean’s Eleven.
The plot centers on Rosalyn Quest, a teen who was raised by a legendary family of thieves “with one rule: trust no one, unless their last name is Quest.” Rosalyn, also known as Ross, wants more from life: friendship and true connection. She is plotting her exit from her high-pressure world when she’s invited to participate in the Thieves’ Gambit, a deadly competition for the world’s up-and-coming thieves where the winner is granted one wish. It’s a chance to free her parents, who were captured on a job. But to do so she must outwit her backstabbing competitors—a coterie of international teen thieves, including a handsome, charming stranger. The story is set in and around the world of “spectacular museums, opulent galas, and elite boarding schools,” Eberly added.
“At its heart,” Lewis said, “Thieves’ Gambit is about a Black girl on an adventure, the kind I was always longing for.” Lewis wrote the book on a break from college after having been mentored by bestselling author Nic Stone through the Author Mentor Match, a program that pairs aspiring authors with completed manuscripts with a published author who helps them to develop it.
Eberly’s enthusiasm is clear. “I couldn’t put this one down,” she said, calling the submissions process “an unbelievable ride” that rivaled the book plot itself with its high stakes, escalating tension, and talented competitors trying to win. The process began on a Monday; by first thing Wednesday, Barney expressed interest, and by the end of the week, there were multiple requests for a preempt and the book went to auction. Barney won the two-day auction in a seven-figure deal for three books. The process played out as Lewis jumped in from shifts at the library where she works in Shreveport, La., and from a trip to Dubai.
Charlotte Bodman of Rights People, Greenhouse Literary Agency’s sister company, quickly closed a six-figure preempt with Simon & Schuster Children’s U.K. Translation rights have now sold in 22 territories.
Eberly said the book “feels like a movie already,” so she reached out to Dana Spector and Berni Barta at CAA, film co-agents with whom she’d previously worked. They developed a pitch within days and Lionsgate, Temple Hill, Hodson Exports, and director Steven Caple Jr. won the dramatic rights. Lionsgate president of production Erin Westerman said in a release that the production is expected to “introduce the world to an iconic new heroine.” Lewis will executive produce.
“When the idea for Thieves’ Gambit dropped into one of my dreams,” she said, “It became the opportunity for me to finally go on that adventure” that she had always yearned for, “only with more heists and less sword fights.”
Publication of Thieves’ Gambit is scheduled for fall 2023.