Review: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

For fans of Practical Magic, Leslye Walton’s The Price Guide to the Occult weaves a tale of family magic, a curse, and the dark depths that some will go to in order to get what they desire.

Atmospheric and full of eerie magical repercussions, Nor is the eighth generation of Blackburn daughters, latest in a long line of women gifted/cursed by their ancestor with magic. Since Rona, each daughter has only had one Burden (read: ability/gift). Now, though?

Things are changing. Nor’s mother’s wicked influence in the form of The Price Guide to the Occult is reaching Anathema Island from across the world and Nor’s ability might not be as singular as she’s lead everyone to believe.

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Published: 13 March 2018

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Category: Fantasy/Young Adult/Paranormal

From the author of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender comes a haunting maelstrom of magic and murder in the lush, moody Pacific Northwest.

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.

Rating: 3 Stars

CW: [highlight for content warnings] including self harm (repeated mentions/thoughts), gore/blood, child abuse, child abandonment , PTSD

To begin with, there were a lot of times that I found it difficult to read because there weren’t any trigger warnings in the book. Nor has a history of self harm and there is quite a lot of time spent with her mental state, talking about her scars and her desire to use sharp objects around her. I have to say, without warning, these scenes made me more than a little uncomfortable.

Aside from those moments, however, learning about the history of the island and Rona Blackburn was an interesting part of the book: how Rona came to form her first homestead, the tragic betrayal of the eight families that she aided, the curse that formed from that betrayal, etc.  The closeness of the Blackburn family to one another was its own kind of richness, such Nor’s grandmother and her partner Apothia to Nor.

Characterization outside of the Blackburns, with the exception of a minimal cast, was somewhat lackluster. There were some, such as Nor’s friend Savvy who got some depth and page time, plus the Coldwaters and Reed, but other than that, even the named characters felt like there was not much life to them.

Speaking of the Coldwaters (Gage in particular) and Reed, the “love triangle” aspect of the book fell incredibly flat for me. I didn’t see any real spark between Nor and either of the two presented choices, though she was pushed together with Reed for the sake of the story and then Gage was there for the other point of the triangle. It felt like having any romantic interest(s) at all detracted from the story because, as I said, with no spark and flat character development, it didn’t add anything and bogged things down storytelling wise.

One of my favorite things in the book were the lighter moments when Nor’s power to talk to animals was able to shine through, particularly when it was obvious that humans so plainly got their pets wrong.

She pointed at the wolfhound lying at the bottom of the stairs. “You do know that Steve’s not his name, right?” Pike patted the dog’s large head .“ Of course it is. We gave it to him.”“What is it then ?” Charlie asked anyway. “Burn,” Nor said simply. “Burn?” Pike repeated. “Yes, Burn . He’s over a hundred years old, and you all seriously thought his name was Steve?”

These would remind me of Doctor Who a little bit (A Town Called Mercy – “he’s called Susan”) and added some much needed levity to the book, considering how much tension there was, what with Fern’s overhanging cloud and Nor’s constant stress and tension.

The plot development was alright, though the epilogue, which detailed the after effects of Fern Blackburn’s actions and the repercussions of the events on Anathema Island, had me more interested than anything that happened in the previous chapters. That seems a bit awkward in the long run, that the epilogue has a more interesting premise. I’m not sure that there is going to be any kind of follow up, so who knows if this is going to amount to anything or not.

I think it’s possible for this book to be enjoyed, but readers really need to be aware of the Content Warnings before doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media (pictures, quotes, etc.) belong to the respective owners and are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.
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