Title: The Price Guide to the Occult
Author: Leslye Walton
Release Date: March 13th 2018
*I received a free copy of this novel through NetGalley which does not influence my review*
Leslye Waltons’s The Price Guide to the Occult is a captivating fantasy that pits its heroine against her own mother in a novel full of magic and pain. Nor is part of a long line of Blackburn women whose magical abilities have both beguiled folk on Anathema Island and caused them to regard these women with suspicion. Nor would like nothing more than to have everyone forget the notoriety of her family name even as the magic that courses through her veins grows harder and harder to ignore. When the book, The Price Guide to the Occult, makes its way to the island, Nor can’t help but notice its contents bare a striking resemblance to spells cast long ago by her ancestor Rona Blackburn. Something grows amiss with the people on the island who once pledged their allegiance to Nor’s mother and she can’t shake the feeling that something is coming. As much as Nor would like to fade into the background, the danger heading her way will force her to confront her past and embrace the magic inside her she has tried so hard to deny.
When one loves a book like I have loved Walton’s first novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, it’s inevitable that I will compare this second to the first. While Ava Lavender was steeped in magical realism, The Price Guide to the Occult reads more like a fantasy novel. Curses, witches, and spells fill this new world. While I found lots of charm in the idea of people like Nor’s grandmother using her Blackburn gift to heal ailments that may not be treated with modern medicine, I really wanted the author to delve more into this world. But the novel is limited to Nor’s perspective and she would rather distance herself from any kind of magic and so we as readers miss out on exploring this kind of magic more in depth. The island felt like a distinct character itself. Being isolated from the mainland, it felt like a place where magic could be whispered about, but go largely unnoticed to the rest of the world. Nor’s world is small, but also full of people who have taken part in her upbringing, who have occupied that space once reserved for her mother who abandoned her long ago.
Nor’s avoidance of magic is tied specifically to her relationship with her mother. Next to Nor, Fern Blackburn is the most clearly defined of the characters. Fern was never a nurturing mother. Her obsession with Nor’s father overrode any love she may have once felt for her daughter. Willing to do anything to get what she wanted, Fern didn’t bat an eyelash when it came to harming her own daughter in order to do so. Able to manipulate others, Fern has made a living off of other people’s pain. Nor lives in fear of becoming her mother, of being the kind of person that uses others without a second thought. But the people in Nor’s life, from her best friend Savvy to her grandmother Judd, are evidence that Nor is not like her mother at all. I do want to mention that the novel does deal with self-harm. Nor has hurt herself in the past and struggles with overcoming the urge to do so again throughout the story.
The Price Guide to the Occult is a short novel and in many places this shows. The development of certain relationships suffer from lack of page time. While there’s a budding romance between Nor and a boy she thought she would never see again, I found myself more invested in her relationship with the prickly Gage Coldwater. He and his family play a vital role in the island’s history and while this explains the animosity he feels toward Nor, I really wanted to see more about how this relationship shifts. There is a time-jump later on in the novel where this development takes place and so wish I could have witnessed more of their interactions. The novel also comes to a close rather quickly. There is a lot of build-up where Nor’s mother is concerned and I expected the battle to be a bit longer.
Overall, The Price Guide to the Occult is a wonderful example of Walton’s storytelling ability. Nor is a memorable character and the world Walton has built is filled with both beauty and horror.