The Price Guide to the Occult

Leslye Walton

The Price Guide to the Occult
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The Price Guide to the Occult

Leslye Walton

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.

Review

I absolutely adored Leslye Walton’s extraordinary debut novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, and was so excited to read this long-awaited witchy follow up.

Nine generations of Blackburn women have lived on Anathema Island. Each has unique powers and a curse that has passed down from Rona Blackburn, the first woman to arrive and an extremely powerful witch whose tragic story has become island legend.

At seventeen, Nor Blackburn is the youngest Blackburn woman and her mother Fern is a bitter, brutal and misguided witch. When Fern emerges after years away she returns to Nor’s world and brings turmoil and danger to the sleepy Island. Nor is a wonderful character; while she’s struggled with the impacts of a painful childhood at the hands of her mother, she’s been shaped by the love of family, community and nature. Walton writes so beautifully and the Pacific Northwest setting is utterly striking. The environment is so lively and the pages bubble with an intoxicating, supernatural energy.

This is a dark novel, but while horrifying and violent Fern drags an ominous shadow over the island, themes of healing and family are strong and skilfully navigated. Nor’s powers include a connection to the natural world; she understands the thoughts of animals and the book’s nonhuman characters are a real delight. I’ve been fascinated by witches since I was small and this book brought to mind two of my favourite stories, The Changeover by Margaret Mahy and a movie I was obsessed with as a teen, The Craft. Recommended for teenage readers 14+.


Kim Gruschow is the children’s book buyer at Readings St Kilda.

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