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Review: Omens by Kelley Armstrong

OmenaTwenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.

But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens.

Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past.

Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.

Please note: As this is a release day review, I will do my best to keep it spoiler free. Please be courteous and allow others the opportunity to read the book unspoiled, and therefore keep the comments spoiler-free, Thanks!

My first thought after finishing Kelley Armstrong’s first book in her new adult series was that my move to small town Ontario meant that I was living in Cainsville. Spooky. I’m only (partially) joking, but the similarities are there: very small village community, filled with churches and gargoyles and nosy neighbours who keep watch on everything that’s happening, and a long-standing set of families who have been here since forever. I have a friend who’s lived in town for forty years, and he’s still referred to as a ‘newcomer’ by the first families. It’s that kind of closeness and awareness of outsiders that settles upon you when you read Armstrong’s first adult book since the closure of her Otherworld series. I didn’t know what to expect going in, and there were definite chills throughout.

Olivia Taylor Jones seems to have it all – the perfect life by anyone’s standards. Her world comes crashing down with the revelation that her parents are, in fact, not her birth parents. As an adopted child, I could absolutely imagine the shock that Olivia might have felt, and the growing horror in the awareness that her natural parents were serial killers is, I think, every adopted child’s worst fear. We all dream at some point that our birth parents are movie stars or outstanding scientists — brilliant, beautiful people who make an impact on the world – and we subconsciously define ourselves by these standards. Olivia’s decision to trace her family’s history and  her growing obsession to find out the truth about their serial killing ways is completely understandable to me; I would definitely do the same.

There’s a lot to appreciate about Olivia’s personality change over the course of the book. She’s determined to make it on her own while investigating the facts of her parents’ cases, so she takes an average apartment and an average job to avoid living off her previous position of privilege. She does, however, keep her sense of humour; like most of Armstrong’s women, Olivia comes with a smart mouth and some great responses. She’s also understandably wary of getting too close to Gabriel Walsh, the not-quite-what-he-seems lawyer who previously represented her parents. He’s a changling himself – one minute apparently sincere, while the next he’s all about the dollar. Gabriel remains a bit of an enigma in this book, and I appreciated that; this isn’t a stand-alone book, and it will take time to discover our man’s secrets.

Those expecting a pure supernatural book may be disappointed; the title demonstrates the role that omens and superstition play in the story, but there are some real-world terrors on hand that keep the adrenaline cranked just as well as any werewolf attack or witch’s spell. That’s not to say there aren’t some spooky other-world mentions, as there are a host of myths, legends, omens and portents to flavour the story beautifully. In truth, what we as humans are capable of doing to each other can be far more terrifying, and Armstrong plays off that knowledge with aplomb. There’s a motel scene in the first 100 pages of the book that so unsettled me that I slept with a chair against the door for nights after.

The host of other characters – and I use the term deliberately – present in the town add an extra dimension to the village of Cainsville, and I’ll be interested to see how their roles develop over the course of the series. Between Patrick and Rose, Veronica and Ricky, there is much more for us to learn about these townspeople. One of the author’s strengths lies in her ability to create interesting worlds filled with intriguing people. Ultimately, though, this is a story of layers, some of which are more transparent than others and reveal plenty of detail within this book, while others are much more opaque and will require time to peel back before they give up their secrets. I can’t wait for the next book in this series to see how many sleepless nights Armstrong will give me next.

Omens is published by Dutton Adult/ Random House Canada and was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Omens may be purchased from Indigo and through your friendly indie bookseller! ISBN:9780525953043, 492 pages. 

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