Omens by Kelley Armstrong: audiobook

What is it about: Olivia, the adopted daughter of a wealthy family, discovers that her birth parents are serial killers. The worst the state has seen in ages. Woops. And you thought you were going through an identity crisis.

What else is it about: There’s a mystery about Cainsville and its inhabitants simmering in the background, but this is the first in a series, so there are tons of hints, but nothing concrete to be learned about the Cainsville. The focus here is Olivia coming to terms with her identity.

Is it worth your time?: Totally. I’m the hugest fan of Kelley Armstrong’s fantasy series, and this is an excellent addition.

Blurb: 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.

Olivia Taylor Jones is everything her 3-word name implies: rich, with a family who owns a department store in Chicago. She is engaged to a rising star in politics, and for a time when the book begins, she seems to have the perfect life. But, there are moments, few and far inbetween in the beginning that hint at another Olivia altogether, one who is not ill-at-ease in her life, but she isn’t quite the picture of a rich kid that everyone expects her to be after all. Those moments culminate in her leaving the security her family’s money brings and taking off in an effort to avoid the media when the revelations of her birth come out.

Olivia making her way in the world cut off from her mother, her bank accounts and fiance is at first hard to fathom as she tends to find her way quite easily, but things make more sense when it is revealed that Cainsville’s population has been conspiring to get her to their quaint little town. There are hints like this all through the book, enough to give you an indication that nothing is at it seems with the town and it’s population. The mystery surrounding the town provides a weird contrast to the rest of the book, which involves Olivia’s very mundane (in comparison) investigation into one of the murders her parents committed.

As Olivia settles into Cainsville, she meets Gabriel Walsh, her parent’s former lawyer. He ingratiates himself into her life, helping her to jump through all the hoops required of her to visit her mother, Pamela. Olivia is entirely unsure of what to make of Pamela, even as she has snatches of memory of her life as Eden Larsen with her. Like Cainsville, there’s something about Olivia, something she doesn’t quite understand, but there’s just enough of the supernatural about her to save this book from being a straightforward murder mystery. Kelley Armstrong does subtle well!

Her biological father, Todd, is only mentioned in this book and Olivia never visits him. What’s interesting though, is that she talks often of her close relationship with her adoptive father, and she was clearly the apple of his eye, as much as it’s clear that he adored her. Her adoptive mother on the other hand is aloof, reserved and serves as a contrast to Pamela, who clearly loves her daughter — has always loved her.

Perhaps that is part of why it’s easy to see why Olivia would look into her mother’s request: that she pass on information to  the Innocence Project on the last murders her parents were accused of. Pamela hopes that if they can prove the Larsens didn’t commit the last two murders, it’ll cast enough doubt on the other murders they were accused of — enough to re-open the entire case against her and Todd. Olivia agrees to pass on the information, but only after she looks into it herself. With Gabriel as her adviser, she begins her investigation which quickly grows and expands and taking an unexpected turn into very non-supernatural like elements.

Olivia spends most of her time with Gabriel, who is an excellent foil. He is a lawyer who wants money most of the time and nothing else. He has no vested interested in Olivia, other than she’s the means through which he can get back onto the Larsen case and more importantly get paid. He is also the avenue through which Armstrong shows us for all her rich upbringing Olivia is savvy and learns quickly, so I felt like the author was answering any reservations readers may have had about a trust fund baby making her way in the world, and waitressing. There are hints of a possible romantic interest in each other in the book, but they’re exactly that — hints. This is about Olivia figuring out who she is.

It felt a little like there was a wealth of worldbuilding in terms of Olivia’s relationship to Gabriel, Cainsville and Pamela Larsen, while the case seemed to lag a bit, before the revelations in the end that tied everything together. Perhaps it’s a result of first-book-itis? But it didn’t really detract from anything for me.

Cainsville provides a cast of secondary characters that are entertaining, if frustrating in the mystery surrounding them. They are a guide for Olivia, encouraging her to heed her curious talent for recognising omens and impending danger — that’s the bits of supernatural goodness I mentioned above. And to be sure, they are bits, and weren’t enough to satisfy my curiousity about Olivia — but I guess that’s what book two is for!

Omens is about Olivia’s identity crisis, and it’s a whopper of one given that her parents are serial killers! But, Olivia herself is smart, determined and vulnerable too. She’s trying to deal with the changes in her life, but it’s not easy; sometimes I think she hides herself (and from herself) behind a mask: a capable Olivia who isn’t internally freaking out her world is falling about and remaking itself in something entirely different. I liked that about her, that she doesn’t have it all together, and she’s angry and out to prove to everyone and herself that at her core, she’s still Olivia Taylor Jones.

I loved, LOVED Olivia’s voice in this audiobook! The narrator managed to give her exactly the tone of a young, sharp if vulnerable woman trying to figure her way in the world. Gabriel was remote, as he should’ve been

Have you read this series? What do you think of it? OR, do you have a favourite Kelley Armstrong series? I just checked her Goodreads and there are a whole heap I haven’t read yet! 

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