To be urban fiction or not to be? That is the question. Or at least that’s the question people seem to be asking about this book. Armstrong is best known for her Women of the Otherworld series – a thirteen book (plus six YA books, multiple novellas, graphic novels, and other extras) series chalk full of supernatural adventures. So, when this book was classified as paranormal/urban fiction, there was an expectation from fans as to what type of story this would be. The resulting book has left some scratching their heads. The Otherworld series was one of my go-to fluff reads, mostly due to Armstrong’s ability to build worlds and characters. When I heard she had a new series coming out, I was excited, but a little leery – would it just be more of the same – paranormal mystery with a good dose of romance and a sprinkling of well written sex.
Then I got to meet Kelley and she talked about how excited she was to be writing something completely different from the last series. She was getting a chance to explore new territory after over a decade entrenched with the same group of characters, and to go into a project knowing that this was intended to be a series (something The Otherworld was never meant to be). When I finally read the book, I was pleasantly surprised but the complete lack of romance. Omens isn’t paranormal fiction so much as normal fiction with a gentle smattering of superstition.
Knowing it was going to be a series, I read Omens the same way I would watch a pilot episode of a tv show – it’s all about the build up. We meet Olivia on the day she discovers that not only is she adopted, but she’s also the only child of notorious serial killers. Her status as a socially privileged darling only magnifies the media interest. This attention, plus her strained (to put it mildly) relationship with her mother, drives Olivia away from everyone – including her finance. A series of strange (possibly paranormal) events end up leading Olivia to a town called Cainsville – where everyone knows that she’s Eden (her birth name) before Olivia has even discovered this information. Something weird is going on in this apparently quaint little town.
Olivia/Eden begins to question the person she thought she was and learns to live without her former wealth. She will take charity from no one, even James (the fiancé) who keeps trying to convince her to come home so he can take care of her. She picks up a job as waitress in a diner, moves into a tiny apartment, begins to consult the psychic across the street, and employs the skills of Gabe – a lawyer of questionable repute who previously represented her birth mother. Olivia/Eden meets an odd cast of characters around town, unaware that they’re watching her as something more than just a new girl. The story unfolds in a mystery format more than a paranormal one: a lot of internet research, interviewing witnesses, discovering dead bodies, conspiracy theories, and the like. The supernatural component appears in the superstitions that keep popping into Olivia/Eden head. This has always happened to her, but in Cainsville their occurrences amplify and she discovers that this is more than just hidden memories. Olivia/Eden can read omens, specifically, bad ones.
All the characters in the book have their own appeal, but for me, Cainsville is the most intriguing. It is a character in its own right. Every paranormal element in the book is connected to this town. The elders are definitely up to something. Their fascination with children and youth is intensely unsettling. The hidden gargoyles have only a tiny role in this book, but there’s definite foreshadowing: An unknown number of gargoyles; a yearly scavenger hunt; a statue built in the likeness of the child that finds them all (Gabe being one of these); appearing and disappearing statues. Clearly, these creatures are going to play a role. Then there are the ravens, the possibly villainous ravens. Since ravens are my favourite bird, I choose to believe that they are there to protect Olivia/Eden from whatever dastardly deeds the town elders have planned. And there’s Patrick, the strange guy from the diner who no one seems to like but never contradicts. The notes of Celtic/Pagan/Druid mythos set the stage for this books classification as urban fiction. Whether or not this particular book fits the genre, I despise when books from the same series end up categorized into different genres (and therefore different shelves in the bookstore). I accept this classification as a promise to appear in future books of the series.