Title: The Witches of Echo Park
Author: Amber Benson
Series: The Witches of Echo Park #1
Received for review from Audible
Summary (from Goodreads)
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 Lyse 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…
I’m a sucker for a good paranormal story, particularly one with a sprinkling of romance, and there was a lot to enjoy about this offering.
Lyse was an engaging heroine, who stays just the right side of sceptical throughout the story, struggling at once to come to terms with Eleanora’s impending death, and the secret life she’s been living. She responded exactly how I imagine I would have – going along with the crazy because she loved Eleanora, gradually coming to believe in the magic, against her better instincts.
And there were some great plot twists too. There was one I kind of saw coming, but the establishment of Eleanora’s past, and why she is the way she is was a fascinating ride as the details were fed to the reader in flashback throughout. Normally flashbacks can be a bit tedious, but I think they worked really effectively here, answering the awkward ‘why the hell didn’t she just tell Lyse the truth years ago?’ question perfectly.
The story was a bit slow to get started – a lot of time was dedicated to establishing characters and explaining back story. I felt at times that it would have been better for a little more pace, though the characters were good enough that I didn’t mind being in their company. It just meant that when I didn’t listen to the book for a few days, I wasn’t particularly desperate to get back to it.
That said, I felt like by the end of the book things were left in a position that would allow for a bit more pace in the next instalment. First books in a series can be difficult because of all the setting up you have to do, and there were a lot of characters that Benson had to introduce. A little more balance wouldn’t have gone amiss, but the story was never boring, and certainly came to an exciting climax.
My other minor niggle was that, for witches, the characters did seem incredibly resistant to the idea of magic. There was a section where one of the women’s children were behaving in a way that was slightly spooky. Any normal mother would put it down to overactive imaginations, but surely a witch who knows that talking to ghosts and seeing the future is possible would assume her children could be manifesting abilities? But this was a minor nit picky sort of annoyance.
For all the languid pace, I did still really enjoy this. It was a different sort of set up, and I really liked how Benson didn’t sanitise the witchery. They were grandmothers and awkward teenagers, but they drank blood, got naked and engaged in (dreamed) sex rites. I loved this, because witches can be really gnarly, and I think they’re much more interesting this way, over Sabrina style finger waving, glitter producing ‘magic’.
I read the audio version, and the narration by Benson – as you would expect with her background in acting – was fantastic. There’s something wonderful about having a book read to you by the author – giving it to you the way it was intended to be heard. Every inflection and emphasis could be trusted to convey the true meaning of the words and the characters.
Overall, an imperfect, but enjoyable read. I’d definitely be interested to see where this series goes next!