Every spy needs a story.
Julia is a spy. And a thief. And an orphan. And a lover. But in Julia Vanishes (Knopf, June), she’s about to find out who she really is. This outstanding book is tons of fun, like any good spy adventure should be, and it has fantastic plotting and tense pacing, but it also comes with some deeper textual layers, in exactly the sort of reading I love. In short, it’s fandiddlyantastic and existing Catherine Egan fans will probably love it alongside people who dig Kristian Cashore, Rae Carson, and Tamora Pierce.
In Julia’s world, witches are feared and hated — locked in silver chains and flung into the river in periodic Cleansings. But she has a mysterious power that isn’t quite witchcraft, and definitely isn’t human: the ability to slip away into invisibility, pushing at the boundaries of somewhere else. It makes her highly adept at her trade of thief and spy, and a natural fit for the mysterious household of Mrs. Och, where she’s ordered to keep a sharp eye for something that a client wants desperately enough to pay a premium for it.
Ensuing events pull her into a snarled power struggle between supernatural forces, government figures, and even her own chosen family as she starts to wonder what kind of life she wants to build for herself. The pacing is super fast, she’s whip smart, and it’s a story that you totally fall in love with — I read half of it at one sitting over a cup of hot chocolate at Bittersweet because I couldn’t bear to leave things partway finished.
I love a good spy thriller with thievery on the side, and I also like it when the leads in those stories are confronted with the boundaries of their morals and forced to ask themselves how far they are willing to go for their employers. The characters in Julia Vanishes were fascinatingly complicated and interested people with major onion layers going on as she delved deeper and deeper into who they were and realized where she’d fumbled when it came to assessing who they were. No one in this story is perfect, and decisions of expediency, greed, or fear are represented just as much as courage and determination.
But there’s one thing in particular I liked in Julia Vanishes, and that was her relationship with Wyn. The two are unapologetically sexual (really reminding me of Alanna slipping away from the castle to meet up with George Cooper), and sometimes it feels hard to find that. This isn’t about a stormy and tempestuous relationship to end the ages, but a bond between two people who like having sex with each other without moral judgment or commentary, in a reflection of a reality that lots of readers actually experience.
The ability to vanish comes with hidden costs, as it turns out, and she’s only beginning to learn the boundaries of her skills. While Julia Vanishes is a standalone, it leaves many things unresolved, not in an irritating way but in a way that makes it clear that things don’t wrap up neatly like a bow at the end of a journey. This is a phase in Julia’s life, and it will influence her for years to come, the job that pulled her along a journey she didn’t expect that forced her to fundamentally question both herself and her chosen life.
You’ll definitely want to grab this when it comes out next month if you like any of the following: Badass girls, magic, witchcraft, thieves, spies, conspiracies, weird supernatural beings, wolfmen, girls with sexual autonomy, and people exploring the realities of developing a conscience.