Amber Benson is mostly known as an actor, primarily for her role as Tara Maclay on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but she's also an accomplished author with a number of books and other projects under her belt. Her latest novel, The Witches of Echo Park, is the first in an urban fantasy series about...well, witches. In Los Angeles. Echo Park, to be specific. Basically, it does what it says on the tin.
Lyse is a young woman running a plant nursery in Georgia. She returns home to LA when she learns her great-aunt Eleanora has terminal cancer. It's there that Lyse slowly learns about the coven of witches Eleanora leads, the truth about her guardian's past, and the mysterious force that's rising to destroy the coven.
Because she's mostly known for her acting, you might expect Benson to write her novels like a television series in prose. Thankfully, she's a much better writer than this. The Witches of Echo Park is a fast read, but the plot moves slowly, favoring character building over a high-speed rollercoaster ride. I was halfway through the book when I realized I still didn't know who or what the witches were meant to be fighting, but I didn't care because I was enjoying getting to know the members of the coven and their friends and family. When the bad guys finally show up, the plot takes off like a rocket, and when I read the last page of the book, I felt like I was out of breath. And because I was so interested in and invested in the characters, the danger and suspense meant more.
The Witches of Echo Park isn't a fresh, original take on magic in the modern world, but Benson is a deft enough writer to use standard urban fantasy tropes well, so that they don't feel like tired clichés. It's a solid, character-driven thriller, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.