Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: Omens

Omens by Kelley Armstrong

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a start, the premise of Omens was a "hook, line and sinker" all on its own. Olivia Taylor-Jones, born to privilege with what seems to be a perfect life -- family, fiance, future life, the works -- suddenly learns that she is adopted. On top of that, her biological parents are notorious serial killers. Suddenly, her life isn't as sunshine and pink bunnies as it used to be. Suddenly, everything just seems to fall apart on its own.

How can you NOT be interested in a premise like that? I didn't even need coercion or influence of other reviewers to WANT to read this book, so badly.

And so when I started reading, I was ecstatic to find that the premise wasn't the only strength going for Omens. The book starts off amazingly strong, and pretty much dives right into the heart of the conflict by setting up Olivia's lifestyle as she knows it, and then shattering it right before her eyes within moments.

But what I loved the most about the circumstances: Olivia (despite maybe having little choice to resist against the matter) is the one who chooses to walk away and chooses to seek understanding of her situation. She doesn't hide out and hope that things blow over. She doesn't cry for help for someone to rescue her from this new development. She doesn't wail to her mother or to her fiance about the unfairness of life and what she's been handed. She doesn't sit still like a little trophy daughter of the wealthy and let people walk all over her.

No, she may have had her moments of confusion and her moments of "running away" (which is something you can't blame her for), but before she even has time to start moping, she decides to start searching for answers.

I might have developed a small girl crush on Olivia. She's quite the spunky heroine, although I'm almost going to admit that her behavior and her reaction to her entire scenario might be a little too calm and too collected. If not for those few moments where her doubt and her fear and her anxiety surfaces for brief moments, I would have thought she'd been in this situation for more than those few days or weeks.

Also she's a bit of a smartass... Did I mention how much I love that she's a smartass?

I like that this book builds heavily on character. The reactions that Olivia, her mother, and her fiance, James, have to the discovery of her real identity was so human that it was heartbreaking. The mob of reporters storming someone's private property seemed a little over the top, but then again, it might not have been that exaggerated. The reactions from strangers, condemning Olivia due to her biological connection with a couple of serial killers -- the fact that just knowing who her parents are and what they had done would bring about such reactions of disgust and contempt, all directed towards Olivia, who had been merely a two year old child when the murders occurred with no control over what two developed adults did for their own sick pleasure... It's such a disheartening matter, because it's a truth in society. You are defined by who you're connected to, even if you had no choice in the matter.

I thought it was interesting to bring that little topic briefly into the first few chapters.

I liked the mood and the setting of the story, that was made all the more amazing by the writing. There's a very ominous feel to the entire thing, but at the same time, it feels pretty natural, like a contemporary drama or crime thriller with a tame atmosphere. There are the hints that Olivia's biological parents, Todd and Pamela Larsen aren't the true serial killers. And this is where the mystery aspect comes into play -- there is no concrete evidence suggesting that the couple is innocent, but then there are also doubts flittering around from one thought to another.

It's an intriguing backdrop to set up the action on.

However, if I loved the beginning of Omens, then I'm slightly conflicted about the ending. the book stands quite strong throughout, taking us from the reveal, to the mystery, to the investigation, to the partnership... but once we start getting some headway on the investigation, things seem to become slightly disjointed. Suddenly, the genre changes a little and we're thrown for a loop on the track that this mystery is taking. I'm not sure I'm a fan of how the mystery panned out in the end, especially since it's not a complete resolution, nor was it very satisfactory even if it DID manage to tie strings together and make some semblance of sense.

The entire book was awesome, really. I was dead set on giving it a full five star rating. But a weakened ending really DID deflate my excitement enough to drop the rating a full star. Because I honestly LOVED almost everything about this book. I loved Olivia, I loved Cainsville, I loved the characters, I loved the story progression, the interspersed insignificant (because honestly, they changed nothing about the story) omen sightings that Olivia made (I'll talk about these a bit later), and the mystery and even the brief interludes of discussion about serial killers, supernatural beliefs, fae folk... that kind of stuff.

But the ending... I'm not sure I loved that as much.

For a book I really, really loved, however, there was still something that bugged me throughout the book. Those randomly inserted third person chapter-lets. They were... I'm not sure I know what their purpose was, aside from showing us something that Olivia didn't see or know about first-hand. And most of the time, they seemed rather meaningless. For instance, one of the first inserts involved an old woman musing about how she believed the Larsens were framed for the serial killings. Was this supposed to help us build doubt about them? Because I already had my mind set on "there's got to be more to the story than that" concerning the Todd and Pamela Larsen being convicted of killing eight people. Or was that just a "not everything believes everything they hear" type of an aside. It was confusing.

Some of the other small between chapter inserts were also a bit strange, leaving me with a feeling of "What the heck was THAT all about?" only to be forgotten when something more exciting ended up happening on Olivia's side of the POV. So I'm not sure if those inserts were to help the story progress along, or they were really better off not being in the book altogether. I certainly didn't understand them and maybe I'm just missing the link somewhere.

And then there's that supernatural backdrop of "having a power she didn't know she possessed". There is an underlying tone of supernatural powers at work being shown oh-so-subtly, sprinkled throughout the entire book. I liked them. Olivia's reading of omens to interpret possible occurrences got me REALLY excited. But by the end of the book, I'm not sure if they were really all that necessary. I was definitely waiting for SOMETHING to come of all of it: the omens, the strange psychotic man Olivia met at the motel, the strangeness of Cainsville, the ravens, the dreams... I was all geared up for some sort of big reveal...

And once again, the ending just kind of deflated for me.

All this boils down to the fact that we're probably just building up for the rest of the series. It's a bit of a cop-out, honestly, because there are ways of finishing a book without having to leave every thread of story arc inconclusive so that you'll be assured people are curious enough to take on the next book. I don't know if that's what was going on here, but it sure felt like it.

But you know what? I'm intrigued enough. I'm taking the bait. I will await the next book and see where it takes me. Maybe by then, the things I loved so much about this first book will be fleshed out in a way that ties EVERYTHING together.

Omens is a pretty awesome book. I'll give it that.

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