Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan
Genre: Fantasy, YA
The title of this book is unusual. It reads more like the heading of a tabloid article about a celebrity disappearance than a book title, which is unfortunate as this book is neither tabloid nor about a celebrity disappearance. It is so much better than that, weaving elements of Victorian mystery with folklore and myth in a well-developed, ever-expanding world where witches born with the ability to write magic into being are drowned, strange, possibly-wolfmen are locked in basements, but regular girls like Julia should not be able to vanish.
I picked up Julia Vanishes right after it came out in 2016 and read it in one sitting. I remembered liking it so much that I purchased it at a library book sale not long after. So, when I ran into the sequel Julia Defiant at a used bookstore a few weeks back I had to buy it. That’s when I realized I remembered nothing about the book at all. I remembered Julia, I remembered that she vanished, I remembered that she worked as a maid, and I remembered there was a guy named Frederick. That was it. So, before I could delve into the sequel, I had to reread the first book. It was just as good reading for the second time as it was for the first!
Julia and her brother are orphans from the Twist who make their living running odd jobs with their crew of thieves. Julia is offered the chance of a lifetime when she is hired to pose as a maid in a rich woman’s house and to spy on its inhabitants. Not only does nobody notice a maid, but Julia also has the ability to hide in plain sight–she can vanish. It isn’t long before Julia realizes that almost everyone in the house is hiding something, and soon she is forced to make a choice that will haunt her forever.
Egan does a fantastic job creating a world parallel to Victorian London, slowly building on the lore of Frayne in a way that the reader is able understand without being overwhelmed. I was intrigued by the mystery of Mrs. Och’s house and the people residing in it. Despite how varied the cast is, Egan manages to create a distinct personality for each character from Julia, Wyn, and Dek, down to uptight Florence who plays a minor role. The lore in her world is clearly well thought out and easily came alive through the novel. However, I was a little disappointed with the direction the lore went, jumping from myth to reality a little too quickly for my liking.
One thing that stood out to me about this book was that while romance was present, it was not the focal point of the story, with Julia able to stand on her own apart from the men in her life. While the final quarter of the book dragged on a little longer than I would have liked, I still highly enjoyed the intrigue, world-building, and characters Egan built in her novel. I’m excited to see where Julia’s story takes her, because it seems like the next books take her out of Frayne and into a wider world.