The Price Guide to the Occult is Leslye Walton’s second novel, and what initially caught my attention was its stunning cover. ❤️ (I’m a cover snob. I’ll admit it!) But it promises a story filled with magic and mystery, wrapped in a coming-of-age tale with a touch of darkness. ✨
Here’s the synopsis:
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.
This book discusses self-harm at length. Its presence within the story is purposeful and not used for shock value. But I strongly feel that readers should be made aware of this before reading this book, especially since the synopsis doesn’t mention it.
What I Liked:
- Much like Shea Ernshaw’s The Wicked Deep, this is a paranormal romance that takes place in the Pacific Northwest. The atmospheric details really helped to draw me in, and I loved the ways in which Walton described the landscape.
- The writing was gorgeous, and although I occasionally struggled with denser passages (see below), I can appreciate how intentional and well-crafted the language often felt.
- I liked Nor a lot, and I found many of the supporting characters to be both enjoyable and memorable. (Except for Gabe. I don’t really like him, and I sort of eye-rolled my way through the whole love triangle thing. 😒)
- In my TW note, I mentioned self-harm. This is discussed, along with Nor’s depression, and I think both topics were handled well. (I’ve read books in the past that failed to do so, or used them for shock value, which I generally find distasteful.) It was nice to see very real struggles acknowledged and included in a story that deals with magic, because sometimes that’s not the case.
What I Disliked:
- While I can appreciate beautiful writing, there were sections of this book that felt a little too dense, which made them hard to follow. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “purple prose,” but it was noticeable and a little frustrating at times. 🙁 This may have contributed to my next point…
- … which is that the pacing sometimes felt painfully slow, as if we were spending more time building up to something than was necessary. I think editing or removing some of the denser passages would help to fix this.
- I feel like I say this a lot, but I really don’t think this book needed the romance between Nor and Reed, or the beginnings of a love triangle between Nor, Reed, and Gabe. I wanted this book to be more paranormal than paranormal romance, and I sort of wanted Nor to just… be. Her attraction to Reed doesn’t diminish her character in any way, but I feel like a book like this can be just as intriguing without the promise of a love story.
- The tone of this book is a little too dark for me. And I usually enjoy darker reads! Something just felt slightly off the whole time, and by the end of the story, I didn’t feel all that great about finishing it. The conclusion seems to set this up for a sequel, but I’m not sure if I’m hooked enough to continue reading, despite the things I did like.
Overall, I was somewhat disappointed with this book. But if you’re a fan of paranormal romance stories with a slower burn, I think it’s still worth checking out. You may enjoy it much more than I did! From what I’ve read, it seems like fans of Walton’s work highly recommend her first novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. I might pick that up soon and see if I like it more than this one.
**Thank you to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for providing me with a free eARC in exchange for an honest review.