This novel is an amalgamation of witchcraft, murder and adventure. So much so, it is one of the best novels I have read this year. Although it shares the common themes of betrayal, family and courage with many other YA novels, due to the unusual setting that is New Poria, they are seen in an entirely different context.
Julia can become unseen- a dangerous ability in a society where witches are publicly drowned in Cleansings. Dangerous, but useful, particularly if you’re a spy or a thief- and Julia is both. So when she was sent to work as a housemaid in the Och household, she resents the worknbecause it’s dull compared to the break-ins she normally performs, and the miscellaneous information she is ordered to find is probably meaningless. Bored, she seeks entertainment instead by observing the obscure assortment of people she shares a house with; a beautiful relative seeking refugee, a noble house guest locked away each night, a restless professor who sends Julia on the queerest errands, and a student who had the most desirable future within his grasp, and then threw it away. And if that isn’t enough to think about there’s a murderer prowling the streets; and from the trail of bodies discarded in plain sight, they are looking for something very particular, and Julia has a queasy feeling its something to do with the house she works for.
I thought that this was a fabulous yet haunting novel; I loved Julia because she was an intuitive, brave and slightly reckless street kid who we see develop throughout the novel as she learns, through several unforeseen incidents, what is truly integral to her. Julia is also cynical and often gritty; character traits which far too many YA protagonists avoid desperately. Actually, upon reflection, Julia’s character changes so vastly throughout the novel that by the end they are practically incomparable, but this isn’t unusual in novels and I have only noticed this detail with hindsight.
The alternate world fabricated by Egan also made it an invigorating read; it is lined heavily with the grime of witchcraft, oozes complex history and is a dystopia without being too utterly depressing or scarred by technology. In fact, the setting is more similar to Victorian times, and the most appropriate comparison would be to Philip Pullman’s world of the Northern Lights. My favourite aspect of the novel was definitely the setting, but because of the fast-paced nature of the plot, it is in my opinion under explored and there are so many exciting events that swirl on one after the other that there is no time to fully explore this magical wonderful world that Egan has created. I’m only saying this because it is clear that Egan has put lots of time creating this universe; from the small details about their custom- religions, to the government’s hierarchy, it is clear that there is a mass of things Egan isn’t telling us!
I would recommend Julia Vanishes for anyone who enjoys the darker spectrum of fantasy, no matter what age you happen to be. It is unique on many different levels and maintains throughout a mature attitude towards magic. A genuinely great read which I loved- and I hope you will too!