The Price Guide to the Occult
By Leslye Walton
Hardcover, 272 pages
2018, Candlewick Press
I won this from LibraryThing in exchange for my honest review.
Nor lives on a small island, as have all the cursed women in her family. She wants a normal life, but she can’t have one because she’s a witch with a crazy, power-hungry mother. She’s also pale with waist-length hair, and don’t you forget it! Nor is destined to be unlucky in love, which we all know is one of the biggest priorities in a 17-year-old girl’s life. Can she find true love and save her island and its inhabitants from the evil closing in on them!? WHO CARES?!
Oh, oops, was that too snarky? As you can tell from my sass, this book wasn’t a hit for me. Warning: rant ahead!
Where to begin? Let’s start at…the beginning! That’s the part I found most enjoyable. Maybe the only part I found enjoyable. The story opens with the background of Anathema Island (which is located in the Salish Sea off the coast of Washington or something) and its founders. One of those founders is Rona Blackburn, a powerful witch. As her story unravels, readers learn about the curse that she inadvertently placed on her ancestors (who are apparently all female) after being spurned by her lover and the father of her child. While Rona doesn’t play a major part in the story (well, ok, her curse is the whole reason for the story, but you get what I mean) she was my favorite character. I would have preferred this story be about her life and that of the other founders of the island.
Instead, we fast-forward to modern times to the eighth Blackburn descendant, Nor. Pale (so very pale), raven-haired (it’s waist-length, in case you forgot already), quiet, awkward, loner, Nor. Nor who just wants to lead a normal life (wait, is her name really a nickname for Normal!?), but who can’t because she has magical powers, like being able to hear the thoughts of all the plants and animals around her. Nor, who only wears black sweaters and ripped jeans and never brushes her waist-length raven hair. Nor, who also gets a fashion montage, because…teenage girls.
Nor? More like Snore! Oh man, I’m on fire today.
Nor is boring. She has very little personality. In fact, I might be convinced she has no personality. She is a walking cliché of the skinny, pale witch girl and outside of her powers and her penchant for cutting herself, there’s little behind the façade. You find about her cutting habits in chapter one, by the way, and it’s mentioned throughout (though in flashbacks and not as part of the plot) so if that sort of thing bothers you, take that into consideration. I didn’t even get an understanding of the pain she’s gone through and rather than feel any empathy for her, I was just hoping someone would come along and do more magic.
Sadly, I had issues with the magic too. Rona was all-powerful but for some unknown reason, after she performed her crazy spell, all her descendants only had one random power. Something like healing, or increased strength or the ability to help people pass painlessly into death. Until Nor, that is. Nor has inherited several powers – so many powers that crop up at convenient times in the plot. Nor’s mother is also fairly powerful though there’s at least some explanation as to why, flimsy though it is. Magic is tricky and I like it to have some rules. No need to build an intricate system, but I at least like to feel there’s some semblance of structure. Nor can just do what she needs, with no cost to herself or those around her, no spell books, no spoken words, nothing! How wonderfully convenient! I won’t go into Fern’s powers, because it’s part of the plot, but even she seems to be able to do anything she likes and based on what she does to accomplish it, it seems like any witch could have chosen the same path. It was frustrating.
Speaking of Fern, she’s the villain. She’s crazy and power-hungry and evil. She wants to control everyone in the world. Why? Because.
My arch-nemesis! The villain without motivation! I don’t have to agree with why a villain is “evil” and they don’t have to see themselves as the hero. But I totally can’t stand the villain that’s evil because they love being evil and evil is fun. Maybe there’s an instance where that could be pulled off, but none come to mind at the moment. Even her powers are only mildly impressive, considering how randomly powerful Nor is.
Then there are boys. Because what YA fantasy (or book) is complete without at least two options for the heroine to fall in love with!? There’s Gage who is rude and moody and strong and obviously is only a dick to Nor so he won’t develop feelings for her pale, waist-length-haired hotness and Reed, who didn’t pay her any attention when they went to school together (except for that one time he bought her a coffee and told her she was beautiful and they never talked again because she’s awkward, I guess) but definitely loved her and was immediately interested in her upon his return to the island. YAWN.
Nor’s hair isn’t the only focus of the story, by the way. Other characters get their hair described often. Because hair is important to teenagers? And also integral to the story? Savvy, Nor’s BFF, changes her hair every time she comes on the scene. I assume she wore wigs, so I just started picturing her as a talking wig in combat boots. Worked pretty well. I wish, rather than talking so much about how long Nor’s hair was, Nor spent some time thinking about how damn heavy it was, or what a pain it was to wash so much of it!
And, dear gourd, there are so many characters! Many played a small role and overall had no effect on the plot. I wish they’d been left nameless because they were starting to confuse me. Not to mention, everyone’s name was “unique” and sometimes I couldn’t tell if the person in question was a man or woman (ok, I know this isn’t essential, but that’s a topic for another day.) This is a personal preference, but I get fed up when every character has an uncommon name. Sometimes I just need a common/basic name to rest my mind on, you know? Probably I sound like a tool. I know this doesn’t affect the plot or the caliber or writing, but it was just really tedious.
I meant to make an example list of the names, but I’m pretty sure I actually made note of every character mentioned in the story.
The ladies: Nor, Rona, Hester, Astrid, Judd, Bliss, Vitoria, Madge, Kaleema, Harper, Wintersweet, Savvy (apparently this is a nickname for Savannah, but that’s only used once and all I could think of was stupid Jack Sparrow), Fern, Charlie, Dauphine, Apothia, Catriona and Lisbet.
The gents: Theo, Gage, Reuben, Vega, Reed, Grayson, Lake, Quinn, Pike, Heckel, Sena Crowe, Everly and Steve! Steve (a dog, by the way) was like a refreshing reward at the end of the story, but then Nor informs everyone he calls himself Burn, so she ruined it.
Wow, this review was way longer than I planned. Ok, I’ll wrap it up.
The ending was sloppy and all over the place. There were large groups of people breaking off into smaller groups, living statues, evil plants, evil tattoos of plants, zombies, a horror hotel, and flooding, all before the final battle. There were way too many ingredients in this pot and I think both the events that happened and the magic that was possible in the world could have been scaled back significantly to make a tighter story.
I know I just ragged on the entire book. I didn’t, however, want to throw it down in frustration. I was just curious enough about the plot and the magic of the world to keep reading. It was ultimately a disappointment and I wouldn’t recommend it, but I also don’t feel like I wasted the two days I spent reading it. I will pass on the sequel though. It’s at least easily readable and if you like YA fantasy and witchy girls who spend just as much time thinking about hot boys than their potential impending doom and burgeoning powers, you will probably like this book.
Oh, also it’s beautifully designed!