June 27, 2017

Julia Defiant: The Witch's Child Book 2

Written by Catherine Egan
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
978-0-553-53335-4
464 pp.
Ages 14+
June, 2017

Julia Defiant, the sequel to Catherine Egan's Julia Vanishes (2016), the first book in her Witch's Child series, is as epic a fantasy as all her books.  There are battles of good vs. evil for power but amidst so much deception that it is hard to tell whom to trust, and Julia, who is still blaming herself for her role in the kidnapping of young Theo, doesn't even know if she can trust herself to do the right thing.

The core cast of characters from Julia Vanishes are still aiding and abetting Julia, the Fraynish girl who can vanish as well as  transport herself between locations and into a dark and burning other world called Kahge. Mrs. Och, one of the three immortal Xianren who’d been tasked with guarding and keeping separate the fragments of The Book of Disruption to prevent the overflow of magic, is leading the group in search of a monk named Ko Dan.  It is hoped that they can enlist Ko Dan to undo the magic he used to transfer the fragment of Gennady, another Xianren, into his baby son.   Theo, not yet two, does not know that he is at the centre of it all, with the third Xianren, Casimir, determined to reassemble the book and reestablish their immortality.

Mrs. Och’s plan is for the group to separate in Tianshi, the capital of Yongguo, and learn what they can. Julia resides with Mrs. Och, Theo and the boy’s mother, the witch Bianka, and Frederick the scholar in the modest Nanmu Triangle, while Julia’s brother Dek and her former lover Wyn live in the seedier Dongshui Triangle.  The others, Julia’s thieving compatriots–Esme, Gregor, Csilla–as well as the learned Professor Baranyi, pose as members of an aristocratic household in the Xihuo Triangle.

While their task is simple enough–find Ko Dan and save Theo from the fragment within him–there is much to learn, primarily about and by Julia.  When permission is granted by the grand librarian, Si Tan, for them to visit the Imperial Library, the search is on for clues to Ko Dan’s whereabouts but also, Julie learns when vanished, into Kahge and Julia’s powers.  At the Imperial Library, she is accosted by a witch who works magic on her, flooding her with visions, possibly memories, including one in which her mother worked with a two-spouted pot, similar to one she’d observed in a painting of the witch Marike.  This pot which she later learns is called the Ankh-nu may be a key to Julia’s heritage.

But Julia’s wanderings as she vanishes about Yongguo and into the horrific world of Kahge bring her more questions, though rarely answers.  Who is Lidari and why do the creatures of Kahge call out to Julia with this name?  Who is the Fraynish girl obviously under protection in the monastery?  And the biggest question is: Who can she trust? Mrs. Ochs who seems to want to help Bianka and Theo but shamelessly pulls life forces from Bianka and Frederick to strengthen herself?  The young man Jun to whom she is attracted and who has come to her rescue?  Her brother Dek who is acting less like himself because of the freedoms he now has in Yongguo?  Or Pia, the assassin who sees herself in Julia, knowing how they’ve been treated and the life Julia could have under Casimir’s contract?  Can Julia even trust herself to be there to save Theo when she’s already let him down at least once?

The constraints of a single post for a review of Julia Defiant suggest the story is much less than it is.  This space is far too meagre for me to acquaint the reader with its plot and still find room to applaud it sufficiently.  The plot and myriad of subplots, as well as rich contingent of characters, both of Frayne and Yongguo and Kahge, are too much for these few words.  I desperately want to tell you of Ragg Rock and her bunny; Silver Moya, Count Fournier and Princess Zara; the telling of stories to Theo; Dek’s new life with Ling; adorable Theo as he learns to walk, talk and do magic; and so much more.  This is especially so as it is all told in the opulent prose of Catherine Egan who can make everything sound, read bigger and better and more.
Stars, this boy.  Handsome, mysterious, quick on his feet, and now sweet.  I struggle not to give him a melty look. (pg. 81)
Even crushing on a boy reads powerfully.  This is how Catherine Egan writes. Every word is authoritative and woven with magic to create worlds that may have familiar elements–there is definitely an Asian feel to the world of Yongguo with its names, dress and customs–but are so distinct and extraordinary that nothing compares.  All I can say is that, having introduced Julia in Julia Vanishes, Catherine Egan's second book brings Julia into worlds where she can define herself and her power, so that she is never inconsequential again.  She will only vanish when she so chooses, making Julia Defiant fantastic in more ways than one. 

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