Series: The Witches of Echo Park #1
Published by Penguin on January 6th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
Sexual Content: One explicit sex fantasy scene.
Reviewed by: Megan
From beloved author, director, and actress, Amber Benson...Unbeknownst to most of humankind, a powerful network of witches thrives within the shadows of society, using their magic to keep the world in balance. But they are being eliminated—and we will all pay if their power falls...When Elyse MacAllister’s great-aunt Eleanora, the woman who raised her, becomes deathly ill, Lyse puts her comfortable life in Georgia on hold to rush back to Los Angeles. And once she returns to Echo Park, Lyse discovers her great-aunt has been keeping secrets—extraordinary secrets—from her.Not only is Lyse heir to Eleanora’s Victorian estate; she is also expected to take her great-aunt’s place in the Echo Park coven of witches. But to accept her destiny means to place herself in deadly peril—for the world of magic is under siege, and the battle the witches now fight may be their last...
In THE WITCHES OF ECHO PARK, Amber Benson introduces us to the Southern California "blood sisters" who, along with other covens across the globe, keep the world in balance. When coven leader Eleanora informs her great-niece that she's dying, Lyse abandons her life in Georgia to fly to Los Angeles - and, unknowingly, to take her great-aunt's place as an Echo Park witch. Benson channels Alice Hoffman in this novel, painting the Echo Park neighborhood in a way that should delight locals, and inform strangers. Though I found the first half of the book a little overly descriptive, the narrative overall reflects the dreams that are central to the story - including that feeling that the dream never quite reaches its conclusion.
This is clearly the first book in a series, but even knowing more's to come doesn't quite change the fact that I felt something was missing. The characters are charming individuals - from perky mother-of-two and Tarot reader Dev to headstrong Daniela, the gloved-at-all-times empath. Eleanora, struggling with the cancer that has spread to her blood, is still formidable and stubborn, and occasionally gets high in her kitchen. I enjoy the way Benson weaves the story of Eleanora's past into Lyse's present, but it doesn't feel like this particular novel has an actual arc. Lyse's evolution isn't as dramatic as it might be. Though skeptical of witches and magic, she spends much of her first day back home reflecting on the strangeness of the neighborhood, and even discovers the place of her recurring childhood nightmare is a real location. Her transformation from non-believer into coven 'blood sister' hurried due to Eleanora's intervention, but though Lyse comes around on her own by the end, it's still not much of a shift.
Benson introduces the reader to the Echo Park coven with great personal details, but the threat that looms over the first half of the novel is barely a whisper, and when it finally does resolve itself into an antagonist, it seems hurried, and ultimately anti-climactic. The character who strikes against the coven is there and gone, and only a piece of the larger conflict, which itself remains vague. The magic of the coven seems particularly focused on dreams, which might be why the story feels like a series of them. Though incredibly detailed, and obviously done with love, the first half - Lyse readjusting to life in Echo Park - is so impressionistic, so meandering, that when the plot that's intended to launch a series does come into play, it doesn't have enough space to complete its arc.