The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton
Publication Date: March 13, 2018
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
ARC received from Candlewick Press for an honest review.
I picked up this ARC at one of the conferences I attended this year, based solely on the cover and the sales pitch I was given. I did not realize at the time that it was by a Seattle author or that it was set in the Pacific Northwest, or that I had read the author’s other book. Although I did find The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender a bit strange, I still liked it enough to give this book a try. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up liking this one.
It is a quirky book, part contemporary, part supernatural with a dash of horror mixed in, but very well done with interesting characters and setting. I loved the island setting for this story. I’ve been to the San Juan Islands many times and in many seasons, and it is a special place, that at times can seem mystical and magical. The island in the book is made up though, but that is ok. Anathema, which means curse, is an interesting place with an interesting history, mostly because of Nor’s ancestor. I loved the small town feel to the story and the characters. People who choose to live on a remote island are always kind of quirky but interesting.
“It was a place that where bohemians came to retire, to spend their free hours creating sculptures out of recycled electronics or painting large graphic nudes of one another that they proudly displayed at the weekly street fair.”
Nor is a great character. She has had a rough time, with a terrible childhood. She is in constant fear of people finding out some things about her. She is also afraid of the family curse, and the fact that she is doomed to not marry the man that father’s her child. She is afraid to form any kind of boyfriend relationship because of this. Then the Price Guide to the Occult comes out, and her fear that her mother is coming back to destroy her becomes a very real possibility. She is stronger than she thinks, and works hard to keep her sanity throughout the book. She is a well rounded character with flaws and fears, but manages to take control of them. I loved the one talent that she admits to in the book, being able to hear animals and plants thoughts. That would be a fun one to have.
There are many great secondary characters in this book. Savvy, Nor’s best friend is awesome. She runs the Society of the Protection of Discarded Things, a junk shop that trades goods people on the island no longer need. It sounds like a really cool place to explore. Savvy is a great friend and is always there when Nor needs her. Nor’s grandmother Judd and her partner Apothia are also great character’s, taking care of Nor and helping her to except who she is. There are many other delightful people through out the book that make it such a good read and makes you feel like you are part of a small island community.
Fern, Nor’s mother, totally gave me the creeps and is part of the reason I said that their is a small dose of horror in this book. She is completely evil and does some truly horrible things to solely to gain power. Although we hear a lot about Fern through out the book, she doesn’t show up until closer to the end when Nor’s life really takes a turn for the worst. I must say I will never look at a fern quite the same again after reading this book.
If you are looking for a good supernatural contemporary with a seriously creepy villain and a little horror mixed in this would be a good book to consider. I also think if you are looking for a book with some fun and quirky characters set on an island with some magical abilities you should consider reading this. The ending was left somewhat open to there perhaps being a sequel and I certainly would love to see one. I would love to spend more time with Nor and her friends on Anathema Island.