I received a review copy of this book via Reedsy Discovery. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.
Eccentric social outcast Lady Gwenevere St. James knows many secret things: magic, alchemy, artifice, and even the truth about the long-forgotten faeries. But she does not know why common criminals are using rare and dangerous magic to kidnap orphans from the streets of New London.
After rescuing one young girl, Gwen vows to save the rest, no matter the cost. But the handsome Scotland Yard inspector is also investigating the case, and he thinks Gwen knows far too much about the kidnappings to be innocent.
To save the children, Gwen must dodge the Inspector, bully a coven of witches, and outsmart her marriage-minded mama, all while managing a wily young pickpocket and a headstrong raven. But an unexpected secret hides at the centre of the mystery, one that will force her to confront the most painful event from her past, and possibly sacrifice her future.
Lady Gwenevere St. James is not the typical prim and proper high society lady one might expect from her title. In fact, she is quite the opposite, much to her mother’s chagrin. Gwen is headstrong, independent, well-travelled and knows many things she shouldn’t, like magic, artifice and alchemy. And she knows faeries are real and dangerous, something none of her peers in New London want to believe.
When orphans start disappearing from the streets under mysterious circumstances and common criminals are apparently using a rare and new kind of magic, Gwen will stop at nothing to try to save them – even if that means uncovering some dangerous secrets and risking her life.
Vanished is a rich and engaging gaslamp fantasy featuring an unforgettable cast of characters. Gwen, the main character, is a wonderfully independent, strong-willed woman who constantly defies social conventions to do what she feels is right. She has a complicated past and some scars run too deep to ever heal fully, yet she is determined to save the orphaned children who are being kidnapped off the streets of New London, no matter the cost to her.
The rest of the cast is just as well drawn, with every character feeling fully rounded. From tough, mistrusting and unhelpfully handsome inspector Hardwicke to thieving orphans Sally and Sam to all the dwarves, elves and witches who populate the streets of New London, each interaction adds something to the story and stays with the reader.
The world-building was handled very well, providing enough information for the reader to understand how this world differs from ours without ever descending into infodumps or lecture-like exposition. The use of magic and the difference between it and artifice was also explained clearly, and the system made sense. I particularly appreciated the reference to the cost of magic, which is something I often find is missing in books featuring witches but was made abundantly clear throughout.
The introduction of political elements, discrimination of certain categories (such as the dwarves) and the situation of the poorest in society added an extra level of complexity that enriched the narrative rather than slowing it down. The straightforward prose worked extremely well to give a sense of forward movement and action to the whole book, not limited only to the more action-y sequences. The mystery was highly engaging and, although some elements of it were effectively foreshadowed, the ending still held some surprises in store.
Overall, Vanished is an excellent series starter, an engaging and original fantasy perfect for anyone looking for a fantastical mystery in an alternative historical setting. I’ll be looking forward to the second book in the series!
This review was originally published on Reedsy Discovery.