Julia Vanishes, by Catherine Egan

Catherine Egan's YA novel Julia Vanishes is better than V. E. Schwab's thematically-similar A Darker Shade of Magic series—creepier, more complicated, and inhabited by less glamorous but more interesting characters. Unfortunately, the cover art for Julia Vanishes is merely adequate, while Schwab's books look spectacular. I sincerely wish Egan's publisher had shelled out for something more impressive, because it always hurts when good books fail to find their widest possible audience, while inferior stories with more eye-catching covers sail to the top of the best-seller lists.

Egan's heroine is a teenage thief named Julia. In a world where witches are routinely executed via public drownings, any magical talent is suspect, but Julia's gift is too useful to ignore: she can make herself unnoticeable—not quite invisible, but close. Julia's current job involves disguising herself as a housemaid in the home of the wealthy Mrs. Och and spying on the house's inhabitants. The house is teeming with suspicious behavior, but Julia's underused conscience starts to chafe her when the parameters of her job shift, and she realizes she is putting possibly good people in danger.

A Darker Shade of Magic and Julia Vanishes are both blends of fantasy, historical fiction, and suspense, with equally youthful casts and similar levels of violence and sexuality. The few differences between the series are all to Egan's credit—her characterization is more complex and her dialogue less self-indulgent. There is literally no reason why Schwab's books should receive all the benefits of being sold as adult fiction while Julia Vanishes languishes in the teen section... no reason but Schwab's A+++ cover art. Here's hoping the excellence of Egan's novel will attract her a zillion readers regardless, but I am always glumly aware of the fate of my beloved Flora Segunda, a fantastically creative novel that disappeared into the kids' section, never finding the readership it deserved.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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