Book Review: The Price Guide to the Occult

A tiny, foggy island in the Pacific Northwest. Witches. An intergenerational curse.

Sounds like the makings of a great story, right? Well, yes. But that story is not The Price Guide to the Occult.

I was really ready to like this book. I’m from the Canadian side of the Pacific Northwest, and the lush, gloomy environment of a small island off the Washington coast sounded perfectly moody and familiar. I also loved the history that set up the story: the arrival of Rona Blackburn, the way magic manifested in her descendants. The wrongdoings and the revenge. It all sounded like good stuff, and I was hoping to have this at the ready for when October reading recommendations rolled around, but… that's not going to happen because it was honestly a bad book.

In reading I couldn’t help wonder where Leslye Walton’s editor was. It feels like Walton still has a lot of room to grow as an author (though her debut novel The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, which I haven’t read, has been well-reviewed). I would even go so far as to say that weak writing became a huge distraction while reading. It’s likely I don’t know enough about an editor’s job to make this assertion, but I really think the writing could have been cleaned up. I mean, this goes for things as simple as this: at the end of the story we’re introduced to a character who is described as a man with a Cheshire cat smile. That’s fine to say once, I guess, but it was actually mentioned every time this character was brought up. He had a Cheshire cat smile, he smiled like the Cheshire cat, ChershirecarCheshirecatCheshirecat—wait wasn't this book about witches in the Pacific Northwest, not Alice in Wonderland? Anyway. About the smile, that happened to be as big and wide as the Cheshire cat's: we got it the first time. Ten times is maybe too many? It ended up sounding cringey, and this kind of repetition was common throughout the story.

There were a few other things that also soured my experience with the novel. There was, for example, an excess of descriptions that contributed nothing to the plot or the world-building. There was a lot of awkward phrasing. The word “blood” was used maybe 8 million times, and though blood plays a central role in the story, it was definitely overused.

The dialogue was often weak; many of the characters had similarly sardonic lines, so much so that without putting a name to the speaker, it would be a toss-up as to who the line belonged to. When the dialogue was made distinctive, it didn’t feel natural (Nor’s grandmother says “girlie” a lot in the second half of the book, and it comes across as clunky). Even worse, some of the characters felt inconsistent.

I think ultimately, and worst of all, the culmination of all these little problems was that I couldn’t connect with the characters. The villain is clearly, one-dimensionally evil, so it’s not like I wanted this person to “win,” but I was left so unsatisfied with the whole story and so disconnected from the characters that I barely cared about what happened in the end.

And the plot itself was slow moving. I’m normally fine with this, but the build-up felt slightly muddled, and the conclusion ended up being completely nonsensical and anticlimactic, with little of the villain’s magic ever properly, logically explained. I won’t go into too much detail because I don’t want to spoil anything, but 1) I wouldn’t recommend this book anyway, and 2) if you do read it, you’ll understand what I mean.

The treatment of self-harm and suicidal thoughts were also a little frustrating, though I can’t truly speak from the perspective of someone who has dealt with either issue.

Unfortunately, I thought this book was—and I hate to say it—awful. The concept sounded fantastic but the writing just didn't follow through. There were two things I did like about The Price Guide to the Occult: the diverse representation of sexuality, and the visual beauty of the island. But these aspects of the book are not enough for me to recommend it to anyone.

This book was a 1.5/5 stars for me.

Cheers

Miriam

PS: The title felt completely irrelevant to the plot. Just because there's a story prop with a snazzy title doesn't mean it needs to be used as the title of the actual novel!