ARC Review: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

Title: The Price Guide to the Occult
Author: Leslye Walton
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Publisher: Candlewick
Release Date: March 13th 2018
*I received a free copy of this novel through NetGalley which does not influence my review*

      “The Blackburn women are cursed. Ever since the extraordinary witch Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island centuries ago and was shunned by the eight ‘original’ settlers, Blackburn witches have been doomed to carry out a brief whirlwind affair with a descendant of the Original Eight. The vengeful curse, however, had unintended side effects: it diluted the Blackburns’ supernatural powers. That’s perfectly all right with seventeen-year-old Nor Blackburn. All she wants is a quiet, unremarkable life—her powers are blissfully unexceptional, her love life pretty much nonexistent. Nor hopes the curse has played itself out through enough generations that she’ll finally be spared the drama. But when a mysterious book comes out promising to cast any spell for the right price, Nor senses a dark storm headed straight for Anathema—and straight for her.
      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.”

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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.

4/5

★★★★

The Friday 56, #70: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

The Friday 56The Friday 56 is a weekly blog meme hosted by Freda’s Voice. Join in every Friday, the rules are simple.

Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
*Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It’s that simple.

**Also be sure to leave me a link to your Friday 56 post in the comments!**

“I’ve been told things happen as they should: My grandmother fell in love three times before her nineteenth birthday. My mother found love with the neighbor boy when she was six. And I, I was born with wings, a misfit who didn’t dare to expect something as grandiose as love. It’s our fate, our destiny, that determines such things, isn’t it?”

Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. The writing is enchanting, reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Reading it is like waking from a dream that makes you feel both light and heavy at once. If you enjoy or have ever been intrigued by magical realism, this book is for you.

From my review:

“The Roux family has always been unusual. The matriarch of the family eventually faded away, her children’s touch passing right through her, her daughter was born with a rather keen intuition, seeing signs where others may only hear an owl hoot. And strangest of all were the twins, Ava Lavender with her angelic wings and Henry Lavender, born mute until the day he finally spoke. Each generation of Roux’s has endured the euphoria of youth and the sting of love. Now Ava, secluded for far too long from the outside world, reaches out for freedom, not knowing that her uniqueness has drawn not only curious eyes but possessive ones.” You can read my full review here.