Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. ISBN: 9780553524840. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
When she wants or needs to, Julia can make it so nobody can see her. For an orphan teen who works for a small gang as a thief in a dark alternate reality, that’s a very good talent to have. She’s obsessed with ‘cleansing,’ the government’s ritual drowning of witches in the river running through the city. It’s what happened to her mother years ago and the connection, while nearly impossible for Julia to explain, is strong. Her connection to her brother Dek and Wyn, the boy she loves, but can’t quite get to love her in return, are the other strong bonds in her life.
The story opens in an intriguing way, alternating between vignettes where people become victims of an unnamed and vaguely described monster who kills each one while removing the top of their heads, and Julia’s latest assignment—to work as a maid for a mysterious rich and elderly woman, Mrs. Och. She’s tasked with spying on everyone in the household and sneaking past locked doors to gather additional information. Whoever is paying her gang leader, Esme, for the information is paying well while being mysterious and vague about what they want or expect.
As the body count climbs, Julia discovers more of the mysteries at Mrs. Och’s home and begins to put puzzle pieces together. Readers are taken on a neatly crafted ride that involves more witches, three magical siblings locked in a monumental struggle, discovery of her own heritage and powers, as well as a desperate journey to save someone at the heart of everything.
While there is violence in the story, it’s central to the plot and hardly a deal breaker in terms of adding this book to either school or public libraries, because fantasy-loving teens will devour the book. It’s a dandy first entry in a planned trilogy.