Monday, January 11, 2016

The Witches of Echo Park (The Witches of Echo Park #1) by Amber Benson

This review was written by: B
Received: Publisher
Publication Date of Book: December 2015
Pages: 304 (paperback edition)
Stars: 4.5/5 

Official Summary:
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 . . . 

Lizbeth knew Lyse was wrong: Time might heal a body's wounds, but it could do nothing for the misshapen scars those wounds left behind.
-The Witches of Echo Park

The Witches of Echo Park is an urban fantasy like no other, which can only be experienced first-hand.  Witches, magic, and covens have never been so real!  The writing was lyrically beautiful at points, and the story was deeply enthralling.  Amber Benson has worn many hats thus far in her life, and I think that "Author" is one of my favorites on her!

This novel introduces a unique take on the spells and wand-wielding supernatural beings that we call witches.  However, those in Echo Park prefer to be referenced as blood sisters.  I felt as though the magic system in the book was extremely practical with an undertone for possible, deeper magic in the books to come.  A coven is typically made up of five women, each with a particular talent.  These five labels include an herbalist who manipulates plants, a diviner who reads cards to predict fate, an empath who can see into a person's soul through physical touch, a Dream Keeper who can walk the dreamland, and someone who can enter the past. The world of covens is then headed by the Great Council in Rome. Eleanora, Devandra, Arrabelle, Daniela, and Lizbeth all take up coven positions, except there is not an announced Dream Keeper among them.

In my opinion, The Witches of Echo Park is a special novel.  While I was originally under the impression the entire story was from Lyse's point of view, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it actually takes into account all of the women and their lives.  Benson crafted six strong females and showcases their strengths and their weaknesses all at once.  Strong, graceful, vigilant, loving, understanding, intelligent, powerful, strong-willed, and one-of-a-kind, the qualities go on and on.  However, we are all human, including Benson's characters who were sometimes frightened, insecure, jealous, frustrated, lost, and angry.  In the end, though, they always kept fighting and never gave up.  I truly admire the author and her creations.  It is easy to paint someone in just a glorified or only a darkened light, but showing that someone is human means highlighting the good and the bad while keeping the underlying meaning of humanity and honesty in sight, which Benson accomplished with ease.  Not every author can do this.  Also, I feel as though she did a fabulous job empowering women along the journey of this book.  Girls can be strong, too, and this book showcases that statement perfectly. 

Looking back, I realize that The Witches of Echo Park took place during the course of only several days, but this was hardly noticed due to the multiple perspectives and fast-paced setup.  One thing happens after another to each character in turn, creating a spiral that a reader cannot help but fall into, consuming them completely, even after they surpass the last page!  That's not all, though!  Benson crafted an enticing, mesmerizing read through flashbacks, which also made the pages fly by one after the other.

While many first installments in a series, urban fantasy or otherwise, provide readers with an immense amount of information to properly set up the story, it can be extremely frustrating at times to keep up or stay engaged.  I do find these so-called "information dumps" important, though, despite the occasional frustration.  With that being said, Benson did an incredible job setting up The Witches of Echo Park.  While there was quite a bit to learn about and dive into regarding the characters and their circumstances, I find that it was the perfect beginning book.  The backstories were actually mesmeric to read, and it didn't feel like a burden.  I realize that not all readers will feel this way, but it is, of course, a personal preference.     

The antagonistic horror known as the Flood is by far one of my favorite parts of the book.  The mystery and secrecy surrounding the Flood sucked me in and created the need to read the second installment to the series right away.  This riddling enigma keeps nagging at me, and I won't stop reading these books until I find out exactly what it is!!!  

The Witches of Echo Park is a solid fantasy read that I thoroughly enjoyed.  It is a story that is both empowering and thrilling with a plot that thickens with each chapter, so by the end of it all, you'll need The Last Dream Keeper right away!  Benson is undeniably talented with small details and sudden twists, crafting the perfect story to read by the fireplace at night.  I for one, will be coming back for more!   

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