Book Review: The Price Guide to the Occult
By: Leslye Walton
Published By: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: March 13, 2018
Page Count: 288
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via NetGalley
Young Adult - Paranormal
Nor Blackburn comes from a long line of powerful witches. Her ancestor, Rona Blackburn, was the first to step foot on the small island nestled in the Pacific Northwest, but she soon makes it her home and seeps her very magic into the soil and fabric of Anathema Island. Powerful women often inspire fear and Rona is no exception to this sad truth. Eight men have also settled on the island and hope to build it up before bringing their wives and children to join them. An accident thrusts one of the men into Rona's life much like a thorn from a rose is thrust into one's thumb if you do not approach the flower with the right amount of trepidation. This encounter will spawn a generations long curse that will weaken the Blackburn magic and forever intertwine the women to the founding men of the island.
Nor is the 9th generation of Blackburn women to live on Anathema Island. She feels the heaviness of her family history weighing on her shoulders, but she also has to carry the burden of the scars that litter her skin after her mother, Fern, discovered that blood could unleash potent magic. Since Rona's time, Blackburn witches have only had one "burden" of magic, but Fern has always craved more. She didn't care that her quest for power hurt her daughter and she doesn't even manage a second glance when she abandons Nor for a life off the island. Nor is raised by her grandmother, Judd, who has the gift of healing.
As Nor ages she soon realizes that her magic is beyond the norm. She's only supposed to have one "burden" which everyone believes is the ability to hear the thoughts of animals and plants, but Nor has discovered that she might have the power to do more. This makes her fear that she is turning into her mother, so she suppresses her thoughts and abilities. Nor tries to blend in with everyone else on the island, but she often sticks out like a sore thumb. Besides, long time residents are no strangers to the Blackburn history.
Nor has managed to get by relatively unscathed by her traumatic past until she sees a book called The Price Guide to the Occult sitting on the shelves of the local shop where she works. Nor can hardly believe her eyes when she sees that the author is her mother. The book is more like a price list for various spells that Fern claims to be able to cast. Nor knows that if Fern is truly able to wield this magic that it comes with a sinister price. From this moment on nothing in Nor's life will ever be the same.
In addition to the conflict between mother and daughter, I liked watching Nor's relationships with secondary characters unfold. She has a best friend that made me smile, a love interest that made me sigh, a unwilling bodyguard who won me over, and a grandmother that is one of the most memorable parental figures I have ever read.
Filled with gorgeous prose, captivating magic, a haunting Pacific Northwest setting, and a diabolic villain, The Price Guide to the Occult makes for a fabulous reading experience. The characters are memorable and describe in intricate detail. I loved the creativity that went into Walton's witch lore. The spin on good vs. evil was intriguing; I also felt like there were some allusions to Harry Potter and Voldemort which made me love this all the more. I can't say if those were intentional or totally a product of my imagination.
It's not clear if there will be another book, but the ending does provide closure while leaving a loose thread or two. I, for one, would be happy to spend more time on Anathema Island with Nor.
One Last Gripe: My only complaint was the pacing. It felt a bit jarring in spots.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved so many things, but I think I have to say my favorite aspect is that Walton's use of language is beautiful and vivid.
First Sentence: They have been called many things.
Favorite Character: Nor
Least Favorite Character: Fern
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.