Details: Walton, Leslye. (2018). The Price Guide to the Occult. Candlewick Press.
Keywords: Witches, Pacific Northwest, Magic, Family
I have to tell you guys, being a book reviewer is serious business. I’m sitting on a million advanced reader’s copies and I have no idea how I am going to finish them all (because of course I have library books and my own that I’ve purchased to read first.). And people wonder why I never finish the TV series’ that I start…I’m a bit at a loss as to how I’m going to finish all these books, but I will persevere for the sake of my three readers. Or for myself. Probably the latter.
ANYWAY, the book I’m going to talk about today originally caught my eye with its title, The Price Guide to the Occult. Isn’t that great? So much going on in just a few words. I originally thought that the protagonists last name was Price and this was their sort of shadow book that was going to have the ins and outs of occult practices, which would have been pretty sweet. But the guide, which exists in the book rather than being the book, is a literal price guide, like how much each spell will cost the user. I thought this was very clever, but actually led to one of the first pitfalls of the book, which I’ll get to later.
The strongest aspect of this book was the sense of place it evoked. It takes place on an island in the Pacific Northwest, so already you have an idea of the environment: rainy, foggy, filled with trees and dudes in flannel. But Walton really plays with the setting to heighten the magical aspect of the plot. The fog thickens when something troubling is happening. The rain diverts characters from certain activities. The ocean and the creatures in it reflect the emotions of the characters. There are lots of cups of tea involved (which as we all know, I approve of). The main character, Nor, was definitely a product of this environment, which I thought worked really well for the rest of the story. Nor’s links to her home give her power in more ways than one.
Nor as a character was well drawn and believable. She has a sad back story (including self harm and child abuse), and Walton did a good job of not only showing the effects of this on Nor’s day to day life, but the realities and process of healing, which I think is super important, especially in YA. Nor is scared: to use her magic, to get close to people, to ask for help, and it makes her a believable and sympathetic character.
Nor’s grandmother, Judd, as also an awesome character. Grumpy and unapologetic, she’s as far from the idea of a healer that you can get. She was just delightful and I was happy every time she showed up. Judd also added to a large cast of women in the book, which was excellent, not only because, duh, but also because there were all different types of women. Some were motherly and some were down right evil, and it a spectrum of personalities that you don’t normally see.
Ok, so, now to the things I thought needed work. The first was the romance. There were two potential romantic possibilities, and Nor gets about the same distance with both. I know not very story needs a romance, but I felt that these relationships, especially the one with Gage, could have been used in a more profound way in terms of character growth. As it was, they seemed a little unbelievable. I didn’t really know why these characters were attracted to each other and then it all kind of fizzled out. It does seem like there might be a equal planned (though I’ve seen no mention of it), so maybe they will evolve, but as it is, it almost felt like the story could have and should have existed without the romantic factor.
The biggest weakness I found was in the ending, and Nor’s eventual show down with her mother so SPOILER ALERT:
Basically it seemed like Nor defeated her mother a little too easily. I didn’t feel that she confronted her own powers or what was blocking her enough to justify her overpowering her mother. And her mother just kind of…lost her power. I wanted this to be more of a moment, of her really recognizing Nor’s power and her own defeat. Also, does Nor have pretty much every power? Cause it seems like there nothing she can’t do (which would be a cool thing in terms of tamping down her power if that becomes a theme). I’m not sure if I am explaining this all that well, but it just felt too easy. Also, she just killed her dad with no real hesitation? Kind of weird.
And this is just a me thing, but I got SUPER frustrated with Nor not telling her grandmother the truth about her powers EVEN AT THE END. Like, I understood that she was scared, but her grandmother was literally the most trustworthy person on that island, and JUST ASKING FOR HELP WOULD HAVE STOPPED A LOT OF BAD THINGS HAPPENING. Communication for the win!
I thought this was generally a solid effort, and would definitely read a sequel. The plotting issues didn’t take away from the book, it just didn’t live up to the potential it had.
Excitement Level: Three Stars
Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.