Monday, June 27, 2016

Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan

*This review was originally posted on*

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Julia Vanishes is the first book in Catherine Egan’s Witch’s Child trilogy. Her debut is a sparkling novel filled with magic, murder, witches, thieves, good and evil and, of course, romance. This captivating read is about a city terrorized by a serial killer and a heroine like no other, perfect for fantasy lovers and fans of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes and Adriana Mather’s How to Hang a Witch.

Ever since she was a child, Julia has always had a special ability: she can vanish without a trace. She is not invisible, per say, but she can disappear into another reality, one that most people cannot see. It is a useful talent for someone who is a thief and a spy. Growing up parentless in a city that has outlawed all forms of magic, Julia and her brother find themselves working for a group of thieves who steal in order to survive. Her latest task is to work undercover as a housemaid in Mrs. Och’s mansion—and to spy on the mysterious people who live in her home.

Confronted with intriguing characters including a disgraced professor and a strange aristocrat who locks himself in the basement every night, Julia becomes suspicious that the people of Mrs. Och’s grand home may be involved in something deadly—perhaps even related to the serial killer who has been leaving bodies all over the city. But as Julia comes to know the individuals she is working with, she grows increasingly conflicted over delivering the information that is required of her and returning safely back to her fellow thieves, or betraying the people she is beginning to care for. As Julia finds herself caught in a moral struggle, she is also trapped in a battle between forces more powerful than she’s ever imagined.

Although Julia Vanishes started out quite slow—despite beginning in media res—the magical world that Egan has created is certainly a fascinating one to read about. It is obvious that Egan is intrigued by religion, mythology and the history of witch cleansings, and she effectively adds her own creative touch. The witches in this world use a pen and a piece of paper to write and cast their spells, and Julia has her own unique ability to vanish, an aspect of the novel that I found intriguing and consistently wanted to know more about.

The characters in Egan’s novel are well-developed and relatable. Many of them, including Julia, deal with complex, realistic feelings such as overcoming fears, staying faithful and true to oneself and choosing whether to place duty over love. I was particularly impressed with the philosophical conversations between Julia and one of Mrs. Och’s residents, Frederick, which touched upon the topic of free will. Julia herself is a well-rounded, memorable individual who at times can be cynical and sarcastic, but remains an admirable heroine throughout the book. Her independence, intelligence and ability to stay ambitious despite hardship, make her one of the most exceptional protagonists I’ve ever encountered in a novel.

In spite of the various themes working in the story—including witchcraft, religion and philosophy—Egan successfully links together all the elements into one, intricate fantasy. The reader is left with an ambiguous ending and a number of questions for the next installment in the series. I can’t wait to read about what happens to Julia next!

Rating: 3.5/5