I have a complicated relationship with Kelley Armstrong novels. On one had I tend to love the world building and the main character. On the other, well she has TERRIBLE male leads and her track record with female characters aside from the lead is problematic. It’s those second two that keep her from being an author that I goes directly onto my auto buy list. However, Omens went onto my TBR pile after I read a short story, a prequel of sorts, called The Screams of Dragons. It was a great introduction to the town of Cainsville and made me hungry for more. But because I know how angry her books can make me, it took me a year and a half to finally pick up Omens. I’m ok with that. I really did enjoy it, but the usual issues I have with Armstrong’s novels reared their ugly heads in this one.
Omens is the story of Olivia Taylor Jones, the only daughter of an extremely wealthy and influential Chicago family. Or so she thought. Turns out she was adopted and her biological parents are in prison for killing eight people. Shaken by this information Olivia runs to the small town of Cainsville (or is she pushed there?) to try and figure out who she really is and maybe do some investigation into the murders her biological parents are accused of committing.
I’ve seen a couple of complaints that this is supposedly a strong departure from Armstrong’s usual urban fantasy. I am mocking those complaints, because no. While the fantasy elements aren’t in your face with this novel, they’re not exactly subtle either. And if you know anything about British Isles folklore then they may as well be in your face. I actually really liked the more subtle fantasy elements.
Cainsville itself is a very interesting town and I can tell Armstrong has been developing it for a while. It’s very much a fully formed place and has a deep history that I hope is revealed in later books. It’s a place I would love to live in but for one thing. Cainsville is very white, absolutely no diversity. Think 1950’s nostalgia combined with all the best parts of the 21st century. It’s a problem briefly addressed in the second book, but only in passing (so far. I haven’t gotten very far into the second book). This is problematic for sure and unfortunately not something that will likely be addressed in later books.
I do think that Cainsville may be better explored in short stories. The Screams of Dragons is one of the more memorable short stories. And the feeling of the town stayed with me long after the story ended. It was the only reason Omens fell onto my radar, and I’m sorry to say that while I did like Omens it didn’t quite live up to the creepy, hauntingness of The Screams of Dragons. Partly I think because the story was more about Olivia and her problems and less about the town itself.
The main plot of the book is really interesting, and definitely the strongest selling point of the book for me. I did not figure out the who done it till Olivia did, which is nice. And I was definitely drawn in as Olivia tried to figure out who might have committed the murders aside from her parents. The did-they-didn’t-they tension goes back and forth. And Olivia’s attempts to get to know her birth mother and then struggle with what she knows and what she remembers was pretty realistic.
I have issues, of course. One of them being the male leads. Gabriel Walsh for example who is the lawyer that Olivia teams up with. He is a closed off, private man who just can’t let himself care about anyone because blah, blah, blah. He’s also extremely rude, very controlling, and manipulative. And he’s definitely set up as a potential romance for Olivia. His counterpart is Olivia’s fiancé. Another manipulative asshole, except he’s a spineless one. And briefly introduced is a biker gang member (think Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy- right down to the blond hair), but he’s not explored enough in this book for me to confirm that he follows the same pattern.
And there’s the ever present woman issue. Omens is actually a step up from a lot of Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance in that there are a lot of female characters. My problem comes from the fact that the only sympathetic ones are older women. And while I love that there are older women represented here, I’m less fond of the fact that any woman who might be considered Olivia’s age (competition) is presented as a slut/whore/drug addict. It was most blatant in a scene where Olivia and Gabriel go to a biker hangout. The men are presented as a mix, some what you’d expect, some really tough construction types, and some who defy the convention and wouldn’t look out of place in a business suite. The women, ALL OF THEM looked like they might be hookers or employees in a nicer strip club. In other words the men are given a range of types but the women- ALL WHORES. That scene further devolves into a jealous thing where one of these hooker looking women has to be put in her place by one of the bikers because she’s jealous of his flirting. It was just really ugly. And as hard as I looked, I couldn’t find one woman under ~50 who wasn’t a hooker or a drug addict (aside from Olivia of course). Because we can’t have competition.
And that is why as much as I love Armstrong’s world building she will never be an author whose books I HAVE to read when they come out. And now that I’ve complained about all the things I need to reiterate that despite these problems, I really did enjoy the book. I think it’s a better then average urban fantasy, and most of the problems I have with this book are unfortunately pretty baked into the urban fantasy landscape.
Do I recommend it, yes. If you enjoy urban fantasy then you will most likely enjoy this one. I enjoyed it enough to pick the second book up straight away.