The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton
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+.