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It is, however, very useful when you are a thief, con artist, and spy-for-hire. Posing as a scullery maid in the manor of a wealthy but peculiar older woman, Julia is tasked with gathering information for a mysterious client.

When a new guest arrives — a young woman with extraordinary skills of her own and a baby in tow — Julia finds herself caught in an epic battle of post-revolutionary politics and entangled in an ancient power struggle she is only just beginning to understand. The real richness here is in the character development of Julia herself. Orphaned at a young age after her mother is executed for being a witch, year-old Julia has had to be tough to survive.

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Luckily, she is taken in and educated by a makeshift gang of petty criminals with hearts of gold. Her de facto family provides genuine fondness and a roof over her head, but not the deep, soothing love of a mother. Julia is a strong-willed and unsentimental heroine, but it is only when she learns that vulnerability is not necessarily a liability that she reaches her full power and potential.

Readers are dropped into a richly built world that nods to steampunk and incorporates elements of Victorian and Puritan life while wisely remaining uncommitted to any one reality.

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Magic also smells of destruction. The mechanics are never totally spelled out, and the rules are blurry but satisfyingly logical. Julia Vanishes shines when its fantasy world unpacks the complications and contradictions of ethics and morality, their roles in religion, mythology, government, and society, and what, in the end, makes a person good. Villains are sympathetic, heroes are questionable; enemies become allies and then enemies again; redemption is both strived for and scoffed at. His longing to prove himself as a bear, raised as such by his nanny, gets him into trouble. And then his efforts to join humankind lead to his being captured and mistreated as a monstrous freak.

The Witches scarred children for life – and that’s why it’s so great

Revenge taken on the people who persecute him leads to his mother being witch-hunted in the mortal realm and deprived of her powers in the magical one. The secluded, enchanted life is exchanged for one of performing and conjuring tricks as the confused boy becomes a surly youth with one secret and awesome power remaining.

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And in the city he now haunts and where his mother performs with the cat, now turned into an agile man lives a miller with a beautiful daughter. So we start to recognise a familiar tale from a new angle and take great pleasure in guessing who Lump might be. This book is dedicated to "witch mothers everywhere". This is interesting in a work for children because it takes as much, if not more so, the perspective of the struggling parent as it does that of the growing boy.

The characters battle with life on the edge between poverty and wealth, forest and city, the urge to be alone and the need for intimacy, living on the ethereal and material planes.

The Witch's Child Trilogy! Q&A with Catherine Egan

The writing can sometimes be a little overblown, but it also captures the tone of traditional fairytale narration, while touching it with a contemporary voice. This is a rich and imaginative book which undertakes in literary terms what the author describes as the work of his grey-eyed woman - to adjust "the pattern of things so that life flowed smoothly through time, the sun becoming the sunflower seed and the sunflower seed becoming the mouse Topics Books.

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