Time might heal all wounds, but what about the scars those wounds left behind?
When Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island more than a century ago, her otherworldly skills might have benefited friendlier neighbors. Guilt and fear instead led the island’s original eight settlers to burn “the witch” out of her home. So Rona cursed them. Fast-forward one hundred–some years: All Nor Blackburn wants is to live an unremarkable teenage life. She has reason to hope: First, her supernatural powers, if they can be called that, are unexceptional. Second, her love life is nonexistent, which means she might escape the other perverse side effect of the matriarch’s backfiring curse, too. But then a mysterious book comes out, promising to cast any spell for the right price. Nor senses a storm coming and is pretty sure she’ll be smack in the eye of it.
In her second novel, Leslye Walton spins a dark, mesmerizing tale of a girl stumbling along the path toward self-acceptance and first love, even as the Price Guide’s malevolent author — Nor’s own mother — looms and threatens to strangle any hope for happiness.
The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton
Genre: Magic Realism
Published on March 13th 2018 by Candlewick Press
Initial Thoughts: Prose to keep me up at night, probably an auto-buy author
While beautifully written and set in an unnatural town, The Price Guide to the Occult failed to enchant me with its characters. And yet the prologue was really strong for this book; it was dark, enticing, and boasted a formidable matriarch.
The Price Guide to the Occult is set in a small town on the Anathema Island of the Pacific Northwest. I love, love, loved the setting! It was the perfect blend of small town comfort and gothic influence. Anathema Island reminded me quite a lot of my own hometown (excluding the whole beach thing) with its farmhouses and historic buildings, and the tourists. We’ve got cute places like the Sweet & Savory bakery (cinnamon rolls! Cranberry orange biscotti!) or an alpaca farm where, as Nor claims, alpacas hum when happy. Then there’s the Witching Hour with its lantern lit cemetery tours and the town’s historical landmarks for the Blackburn women. There is something very special and memorable about Anathema Island and the magic that flows through it.
Ah yes, the magic; it is strange, quite possibly terrifying, and unique. Next to the setting, the magic system was one I enjoyed reading about. The abilities of the Blackburn women are described as Burdens and each woman has only on ability. There’s healing which can leave its healers with ruined hands, depending on the sickness; the burden to manipulate minds; the burden of Death’s touch that left its user with a child-like mind, and so on. It is said that any Blackburn woman who harnesses magic beyond her Burden makes use of black magic.
While I loved this about the novel, its characters weren’t its greatest aspects. Nor, the main character, has undergone a lot of abuse from her mother, and she self-harms but because of therapy she has gotten better. I greatly appreciate Leslye Walton for how she handled this topic. Although linked in a way to magic, the author did not romanticize Nor’s self-harm at all. She did describe the addiction that comes with self-harming including passages on the temptation of it and Nor’s previous experiences. I don’t come across books, especially those of the fantasy and paranormal genre, which deal with self-harm. So I’m glad Leslye Walton added it into her book to give her readers a glimpse of this behavior.
Even so, The Price Guide to the Occult finds its weakness with its characters. For a book with such a great premise, unfortunately, its characters are rather one dimensional. Nor is kind-hearted, a keep to herself kind of girl who just wants to live a simple life. She dropped out of high school and instead pursued her GED. Nor’s internal battle with herself – her identity – is one key aspect of the novel and though you find Nor has grown by the end of it, however, as the protagonist, I feel she lacked depth. Nor didn’t show as much initiative in the novel until we were in the last few chapters, and this made me wonder if she was enough to carry the story for us. The side characters, unfortunately, suffer from this as well. They are not explored in depth which makes their presence in the book like passing clouds. I couldn’t root for the romance in this novel as I knew nothing about the interest. The side characters are present with one “cool quality” but emotionally, they’re as dry as cardboard. I know I sound harsh but just from the writing and world-building, I can tell that this author has so much potential so it confuses me as to why her characters are lacking. This makes the novel feel like its dragging, and not even its prose can make up for it.
Even so I do believe there are others who will appreciate this novel better than I did. I did enjoy the world The Price Guide of the Occult introduced me to and will definitely still be picking Leslye Walton’s future books in hopes of finding a read suitable for me.
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Disclaimer: Thank you to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for providing me an e-copy for review in exchange for an honest review.Text dividers from Freepik.
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