Review by: Paige
Rating: ★ ★ ★
Genre: Young Adult, Magical Realism, Fantasy
Synopsis: The Blackburn women are cursed. Ever since the extraordinary witch Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island centuries ago and was shunned by the eight “original” settlers, Blackburn witches have been doomed to carry out a brief whirlwind affair with a descendant of the Original Eight. The vengeful curse, however, had unintended side effects: it diluted the Blackburns’ supernatural powers. That’s perfectly all right with seventeen-year-old Nor Blackburn. All she wants is a quiet, unremarkable life—her powers are blissfully unexceptional, her love life pretty much nonexistent. Nor hopes the curse has played itself out through enough generations that she’ll finally be spared the drama. But when a mysterious book comes out promising to cast any spell for the right price, Nor senses a dark storm headed straight for Anathema—and straight for her.
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.
Despite not having read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, I had heard so much praise for the author’s masterful, whimsical, atmospheric prose that I was greatly looking forward to this read. I’ve been on the lookout for good witch stories, and I’m an enormous fan of the Pacific Northwest, but it was the “occult” which really hooked me. Unfortunately, this book just didn’t captivate me the way I had hoped it would. I found the writing clumsy, the dialogue awkward, the character development abrupt and nonsensical, and the book so overwritten it was hard to follow. I thought there were some great, really great, moments, and the concept was fantastic, but I just didn’t feel for this novel what I wanted to.
My first problem, and my biggest problem, was the use of Nor’s self-harm as a plot device. It came off as disrespectful and ignorant due to the obvious lack of research and development. done. When handling a topic so serious and one potentially triggering for your readers, it needs to be done with deftness and maturity – it needs to be well understood. Instead, it was handled in a melodramatic and unrealistic fashion. Furthermore, it was clearly intended to be a major part of Nor’s character development – but that “development” was more an abrupt change than anything else, and therefore struck me as disingenuous. In part, this was due to the time jump – one I found completely unnecessary. It interrupted the flow of the writing for no apparent reason, and changed nothing about the unraveling of the plot. It was more of a detriment than anything else, and the awkward attempts at integration disrupted the flow of the writing immensely.
I was also greatly disappointed and underwhelmed by the romance. It was not developed at all, and I would have much preferred to see an enemies-to-lovers situation going on with Gage than anything else. And even when she did make a move on Gage, it made no sense! Really, it was Gage (and Savvy, whom I adored) who I would’ve liked to see explored and developed further. They were by far the most interesting and intriguing characters, and deserved way more time than they got.
Overall, this book was wildly underdeveloped. Despite loving the ending and the fantastic use of imagery on display, the narrative seemed to lack clear direction. I never felt fully engaged until the last 50 pages or so, but it did hold my attention and my thoughts despite not being a really great read. When it was good, it was great. But ultimately, it’s weaknesses outnumbered its strengths.