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272 pages, Hardcover
First published March 13, 2018
On the evening of Halloween, Nor marched down Meandering Lane after her shift at the Witching Hour.
Grinning at her from behind the glass was the man with the Chesire-cat smile.
"Any decent human being, witch or otherwise, has the capacity to do good in this world. It's merely a case of whether one chooses to do so."
There was something coming, something to fear.
Under that serene facade was violence. Under that mask of apathy was terror.
For Nor, feeling happy felt like being a glaring target. Feeling happy meant that she had something to lose.
Some hearts can’t do anything with love except turn it rotten.
Time might heal all wounds, but what about the scars those wounds left behind?
The Blackburn women have lived on Anathema Island for nine generations and are plagued by a curse. Rona Blackburn was scorned and left abandoned by a lover who felt guilt over having affair. To assuage his guilt, he decided to take it out on Rona, but she fought back. In retaliation, she put a curse on the Original Eight founders of the island who helped participate in the crimes against her. However, the curse had effects on the Blackburn women. There powers are not once they once were and are now focused to only magical talent instead of the multitudes that they once were. Nor Blackburn is the ninth generation on Anathema Island and is content with her ability to her animals and the earth. Her past is clouded in blood— forced from her body at the hands of her mother obsessed with power and from herself by cutting herself. Things on the island are calm, that is until her mother, Fern, releases the novel The Price Guide to the Occult and it quickly becomes a bestselling sensation. Nor knows her mother is uses magic at a price—the blood and pain of others. Things of Anathema Island are shifting and things are ramping up to magical heights. I greatly enjoyed Leslye Walton’s debut novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. Since reading an ARC of that novel, I’ve been anxiously awaiting another novel by Walton. Imagine how excited I was when I received an ARC for her sophomore novel. Walton uses her lyrical prose to create a magnificent story seeped in magic and dealing with pain. It is quite different from Ava Lavender, but it sticks to the same dark themes of abandoned love, pain, women in families, and interconnected histories. I do wish that Walton had used her talents for genealogical storytelling to paint each Blackburn woman and give further context into the story (and it would have been incredibly interesting so that the reader would have a full understanding of all of Nor’s powers). This is not a perfect novel, but it is a wonderful story that is full of heartbreak, sorrow, and overcoming the past and oneself.
The main female character is Nor. I greatly appreciated how delicately Walton tackled a heroine who has suffered with self-mutilation. As someone who has also been there and done harm to myself, my heart broke for Nor and I greatly wanted her to see her worth and break free from her fear. When she does become fearless, it is a moment of victory. Nor is a character I easily rooted for and she has a quiet strength and desire to survive. She is an admirable character and I greatly appreciated seeing her narrative come to life.
The Villain- Fern Blackburn is scary. She starts a cult through chain letters and preying on peoples’ emotions. She knows that people will flock to a poor pregnant girl without “love” and trapped on an island. Her cult starts before Nor enters this world, but her thirst for power grows greater after her novel becomes instantly popular through a YouTube video. She is horrifyingly manipulative, sadistic, and will stop at nothing to gain ultimate control. It is incredibly interesting how Walton interweaves Nor’s nightmares into the reality of Fern’s monstrous murder sprees. It’s scary and heart-stopping.
There is some romance in this novel, but it is not the focus and I greatly appreciated that. I felt that if Nor had become hopelessly in love with someone then it would have ruined her own journey of strength and overcoming her fears. Reed seems very sweet, but I wasn’t really all that in to him and Nor. There was also a trope that I greatly despise: the let’s make out/kiss before I go into battle trope. I hate this trope with a fiery passion, but surprisingly it occurred with a character that Nor had a lot of tension with and I thought from the beginning that they would wind up together.
My favorite character is hands down, Savvy. She is an enduringly fun character with a fro that always changes colors and is not afraid to speak her truth. She is light and a nice contrast to Nor’s darkness for the majority of the novel. They contrast each other’s as best friends so nicely. I was also a fan of Judd and Apothia, Nor’s great-grandmother and grandmother. I just wish that there was more development and conversations between all of them.
Overall, I highly recommend this novel to fans of witches and Walton’s prose style. I think that this will be popular with a lot of readers and I’m so glad that I enjoyed it. Also, I want a sequel because that epilogue left so much to be desired for the world and the aftermath of the havoc Fern wreaked upon humanity.