Omens, by Kelley Armstrong

Omens, the first book in Kelley Armstrong's new Cainsville series, perfectly encapsulates my feelings about her writing as a whole: her plots are solid and her mysteries intriguing, but her characters lack charm. I get ridiculously invested in finding out what happens to Armstrong's protagonists, but rarely do I care about the protagonists themselves.

At age 24, department store heiress Olivia Taylor-Jones discovers she was adopted. Her biological parents? Pamela and Todd Larsen, a pair of infamous serial killers convicted of eight ritual murders in the early 90s. When Olivia's family and aspiring-politician fiancé are horrified by the scandal, Olivia ends up in Cainsville, Ill., an isolated little town full of peculiar residents—none of whom seem at all surprised by her odd compulsion to obey all kinds of superstitions—and meets Gabriel Walsh, her biological mother's former attorney. Gabriel and Olivia form an uneasy partnership: Olivia wants to investigate the possibility of the Larsens' innocence, while Gabriel has undisclosed (but consistently self-serving) goals of his own.

Like I said: I keep my expectations low when it comes to Armstrong's characterization skills, but even I was surprised by Olivia's lack of personality. She's not unpleasant or stupid, she's just there, pushing the story along. Armstrong introduces plot points that might have humanized Olivia, including an unlikely job waiting tables (which we hardly see) and her relationship with her flaky, self-absorbed adoptive mother, but fails to capitalize on them. Admittedly, Olivia displays some sparks in her scenes with Gabriel, but otherwise I found myself wishing Armstrong had made her even colder, turning her flat affect into a creepy plot point—what, if anything, might this chilly young woman have in common with the monsters surrounding her?

Thankfully, Omens is about way more than a single character. In addition to the overarching question of the series—who really committed the Larsen murders?—Armstrong introduces dozens of smaller mysteries. Between answering those questions, exploring Olivia and Gabriel's spiky chemistry, and revealing the otherworldly nature of Cainsville itself, the author has given herself enough material to fuel a dozen sequels. I'm hoping she'll resolve the story in less, of course (because I don't even have the patience for half a dozen sequels, particularly not on Armstrong's one-book-per-year schedule), but an admirably solid foundation has been laid.
Posted by: Julianka


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