Review – Omens (Cainsville #1) by Kelley Armstrong


Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Publish Date: Out Now (Aug. 20th)
How I got this book: Hardcover from the publisher

#1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong begins her new series with Omens, featuring a compelling new heroine thrust into a decades-old murder case and the dark mysteries surrounding her strange new home.

Twenty-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.

*blurb from Goodreads

        With the conclusion of the Otherworld series last summer, I have been looking forward to what Armstrong had up her sleeve for her new Cainsville series. Now, having read Omens, I’m still wondering how this series is going to develop. I’m left with more questions than answers — a hallmark of a good series opener, in my book. Although, I have to admit, it took me just a bit to get hooked in but I’m oh so glad I stuck with it. I think mostly that had to do with not feeling anchored to something specific or even familiar and it just took a while for me to get comfortable with the world. At the beginning of Omens is an Author’s Note in which she references “literary Easter eggs” within the text for readers impatient to learn about Cainsville. Those of us familiar with the paranormal genre will likely pick up on them right away…I’m just sayin. But even with that, Armstrong is still keeping her cards close to the vest at this point.

        Everything about Omens is subtle. There is an undercurrent of the supernatural, but for now these elements are just beyond our peripheral vision. We know something is there, but we can’t quite see it. Armstrong is still weaving the foundation of this story so we aren’t able to see the full tapestry as yet. Because of this, it’s hard to know what to call this story. For now, it seems to be a bit of a supernatural mystery/thriller. I have no idea if it will stay that way or develop into a more familiar UF construct with the addition of more paranormal elements. Will there be paranormal creatures in this world? I don’t know, but I think so. What is Olivia’s role and how does this relate to her biological parents? Is there more to Gabriel than meets the eye? The town? Oh, yes, especially the town! I have some theories about all that, and half the fun is in the guessing:-)

        In some ways, this story reminded me of M Night Shyamalan’s early movies, not in content (Omens is not an allegory) but in style where the things unseen provided the greatest tension. Often in those movies, we didn’t know exactly what was going on but we could feel something building. That’s how I felt while reading Omens. I was also reminded of the way in which KMM’s Fever series started with Darkfever. Granted, there was a stronger paranormal element by the time that book ended, but I remember finishing that book with more questions than answers as well.

        Armstrong presented a richly layered story that focused on establishing characters, relationships and locations. I enjoyed the character progressions of both Olivia and Gabriel and I think these two will develop a dynamic relationship — whether it will be romantically based remains to be seen although some promising embers did spark. Regardless, with the way these two worked together, I’d be fine either way. Armstrong also gave us a detailed setting in Cainsville where all is not as it appears. The town of Cainsville is more than just a setting, it is a character unto itself. I loved the gargoyles, the picturesque architecture, the small-town-but-slightly-otherworldly vibe, and the mysterious inhabitants.

        Up to the point of initial conflict in the story, Olivia had led a life of wealthy privilege. I saw Olivia as adrift in the opening stages of the story. Although she had altruistic interests in her volunteer work, she had no real ambition for her own life. Instead, she seemed subsumed by her fiance’s goals and her codependent mother’s needs. She wanted more from life than what her parents modeled but found herself on the fast track for replicating that very scenario. I got the sense that she felt stifled and perhaps a bit bored and definitely lived in a bit of denial about it all. Although she wanted to do something with her life, she resolved to put that off by going back to school for a doctorate in English. Not to knock advanced education or the study of English literature, but here in Olivia’s case, it just seemed to reinforce the idea that she didn’t have a clue what to do with her life and no motivation to really find out.

        I actually think that this state of being is what contributed to Olivia’s decisions after she learned about her biological parents and that she’d been adopted. I think she was already ready to bolt and the revelation simply acted as a catalyst. To me, she wasn’t really running from the media frenzy so much as she was running away from a life path she couldn’t see herself taking. It took a major life upheaval to get her out of her comfort zone. Unfortunately for Olivia, it also caused her to make some rash decisions. Granted, her mother and fiance didn’t have the greatest of responses but that alone didn’t fully explain Olivia taking such drastic action. But it seemed Cainsville had been waiting in the wings for the right moment to herd Olivia in…cue eerie music.

        Olivia’s character really grew on me as she settled into Cainsville. I think this is because she grew within herself and began to take a more active interest in her life. She insisted on standing on her own rather than taking the easy way out with a quick call to her family for financial support. This was an opportunity for her to create her own life, and she took to it. Gabriel had been Olivia’s biological mother’s lawyer at one point. After Olivia was outed as being the long-lost daughter of convicted serial killers, he saw an opportunity to exploit that might get him back on the case. Together, they went about investigating Olivia’s biological mother’s assertion of wrongful conviction.

        Gabriel’s character fell into that grey area of morality — an interesting dichotomy of not necessarily amoral, but not particularly honorable either. I got the sense that although he did follow a personal honor-code, he allowed for flexibility should a situation present that he could benefit from. As such, he could be ruthless and yet he seemed to have a good heart. He also kept himself closed off and guarded. I enjoyed watching him thaw over the course of the story — not that he thawed much — as I said before, everything about this story is subtle. I especially liked that Olivia handled Gabriel as a straight shooter, not coy or coquettish. She had a solid read on Gabriel from the very beginning and she didn’t romanticize the situation. The two of them worked very well together and I’ll be waiting to see how this partnership develops.

        There were so many good things about this story and I’m really excited about the series. On a very minor note, I did feel the narrative wasn’t as active as I would have liked. A good deal of the story happens in an expository manner as we get told about it in summation by Olivia. While I liked the subtle layering of the supernatural elements, I would have liked just a bit more foreshadowing. But I respect Armstrong’s right to tell the story the way she wants to tell it, so I will wait. Patiently. Or not, as the case may be. However, I am hopeful that as the series develops, this aspect will become more evident. But, other than that, Armstrong’s descriptive writing style and voice shone through. She really put a lot of time and attention into establishing and developing the characters and setting. All in all, a very solid read and a promising start to a new series!

        I give Omens a B+.

5 thoughts on “Review – Omens (Cainsville #1) by Kelley Armstrong”

  1. @xaurianx: Really? Huh. Well, everyone has their own experience. All I can say is what my experience was. However, it does make me wonder if there perhaps weren’t some preconceived expectations stemming from Armstrong’s prior work? As an established storyteller, her previous series have all had very strong UF elements. So it’s not much of a leap to think her future stories would follow suit. I would say that Armstrong’s approach to Omens is unlike her other stories and it may be this “otherness” that is causing confusion or disappointment? I could certainly understand that. However, to me, it seems that perhaps Armstrong is trying something new and I’m willing to see how that plays out.

    If my review helped you decide, then I’m glad for it:-)

  2. I totally forgot about this book until I read your review. Now I am excited. I just have to wait for the Kindle price to drop a little.
    Thank you for the warning about the exposition. Since it’s the first book, I think that’s forgivable.

  3. @Vi: Yay:-) Hopefully the ebook price will drop soon, at least it’s already less than the hardcover version. Yeah, I agree, sometimes the first book gets a bit of a pass. But still, a good read even with that.

  4. I like your review, I read the Omens and you are right, it was a good book. It is only the first book in the series so the future is still uncertain, with so many possibilities.

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