So, you have a coven of witches (who don't like to be called that) who connected to some global network of covens that are under attack. We're not given much information on that part -- just enough so that the threat of violence is real, if shadowing (and mostly so far removed as to not be a looming presence). The local leader of the coven --the last of a generation, it seems -- is dying of cancer, and she recruits her great-niece (or something), Lyse, to take her place. Lyse had no idea her great-aunt (or something) was a witch -- or in Lyse's point of view, she had no idea her great-aunt was a little crazy, not full-blown insane, but unhinged enough to believe in magic. But she goes along with her dying wish, and is initiated into the coven. At which point in time, enough crazy stuff starts happening that Lyse has to admit that, yeah, there's something to that magic stuff.
We don't get nearly enough time with the rest of the coven to really connect with them -- this is about introducing us to the world, about Llyse and Eleanora, and connecting Lyse to everything. It's only in retrospect that I noticed that I didn't get to know everyone as well as I wanted to. Lizabeth was close -- but I think it'd take 200 pages devoted to her for me to have enough. I wouldn't need as much time with the others, but, well, trust me on this -- Lizabeth is one to watch. They all seem fun and interesting, but no one else comes close.
I'm really light on details here, because the novel's an introduction to the series -- so the details about characters and the tiny bit of plot are all there really is. Which is fine -- for this book, not for #2 in the series. I did spend most of the last 50 pages thinking the ending would be unsatisfactory, but she pulled it off -- again, for the first book of a series, not for anything later.
This is so different than Benson's last series, the Calliope Reaper-Jones novels. Honestly, they don't even seem like they were written by the same person. The characters, the world, the emotions at play, even the magic system feels more grounded, more realistic (if you can say that).
Most Urban Fantasy reads like a Detective/Mystery novel with Magic/Supernatural elements mixed in. This one felt like a Chick Lit (meaning that in the nicest possible way, and just to describe things) book flavored with magic. Which makes it stand out from the pack -- by quite a ways. The cover reflects that, I think. Lyse (I assume) doesn't look like she's ready to kick butt and take names, she looks like someone who could be my neighbor in the middle of bad day. This is not going to appeal to every UF reader, but I dug it.
On the one hand, it doesn't take too many pages before you're pretty sure you know what kind of story this is, how things are going to go. It's solid stuff, don't get me wrong -- nor is it predictable. It's just a certain type of story. Yet even knowing that (and I was right, more than I was wrong, anyway) the way that Benson unspooled things drew me in further and further. She set the hook well.
By page 55 I was prepared to call this Benson's best by a mile -- and I only became more convinced the further I read. Friendship, family, devotion, screwy-beliefs, a touch of romance, and magic -- Benson brings it all. If you're up for an Urban Fantasy that doesn't read like every other one you've read, give it a shot.