Omens (The Cainesville Series book 1) by Kelley Armstrong (book review).

An author always takes a risk when they round off a popular series and embarks on a new one. There is a danger that regular readers won’t like the new direction, but the possibility of collecting new ones who didn’t want to plunge into the middle of the previous one. Kelley Armstrong produced thirteen novels and several collections about mainly women of the Otherworld, set against a world that is unaware of supernatural creatures who want to keep it that way. There are werewolves and female witches, necromancers and ghosts, half-demons and male sorcerers and a few vampires. The characters tend to migrate between novels with a different focal character. ‘Omens’ is the first volume in the new The ‘Cainesville Series’ which follows a five volume arc.

The first person narrator, Olivia Taylor-Jones, has been brought up as the privileged only child of wealthy parents, engaged to the equally privileged James Mills. She doesn’t need to work but volunteers at a drop-in centre. Then, without warning, she discovers that she is adopted and that her real parents are notorious serial killers. Suddenly, she is the centre of a paparazzi storm. Her adoptive mother abandons her, running off abroad and her fiancé dumps her. She ends up in Cainsville, a town off the tourist trail an hour from Chicago, unaware that she has been manoeuvred into going there. She quickly finds accommodation, a job and meets the lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, who represented her biological mother at her latest appeal. Gabriel tells Olivia that her mother, Pamela Larson, wants to meet her. Reluctantly, Oliva agrees.

Olivia decides that she wants to find out more about her real mother and her crimes, since her adoptive mother appears to have abandoned her. Pamela and Todd Larson were convicted of the semi-ritualistic murders of eight people. It is the differences between the first six and the final two that set Olivia and Gabriel on an investigative path.

Cainsville is a strange town. Most of the people have either lived there all their lives or returned after a spell away. Newcomers like Olivia are rare but she is quickly accepted. Armstrong is best known for the supernatural elements in her novels and stories but here that element is relatively unobtrusive. Olivia seems to have a facility for seeing omens and interpreting them, such as a cat washing its ears indicating rain. She tends to dismiss these minor predictions as based in superstitions that sometimes come true. Hints of the supernatural in ‘Omens’ is low key, but expect them to be strengthened as the series continues.

Little things that seem to be throw-aways at the time develop greater significance later in the arc.

While there are a lot of good things here, it is an introductory novel to a series and development of characters is placed very much to the fore, introducing elements that accumulate in later volumes to achieve greater importance. Once Olivia reaches Cainsville, the narrative begins to take shape but the means of forcing her to leave her comfort zone is rather extreme. Some sections of the public are certainly fascinated by serial killers but the sudden intense interest in a woman who happens to be the child of convicted criminals more than twenty years after the trials is rather over the top.

The paparazzi feeding frenzy is unlikely to be as rapacious as portrayed as it is not current news. The abandonment of Olivia by her adoptive mother, who only found out a couple of years before who Olivia’s biological parents were, who had raised her for twenty years is odd. The unsupportive behaviour of her fiancé indicates his affections were not completely genuine. James seems more concerned with appearances suggesting his professed love was shallow. The only reason for this sudden media intention seems to be to drive Olivia to Cainsville so that the real story can start.

Once Armstrong’s regular readers get past the initial hysteria, they will find a developing story that is intriguing.

Pauline Morgan

August 2022

(pub: Orbit, 2013. 486 page small hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84744-511-7)

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