The heroine of Ontario fantasy author Kelley Armstrong's new novel grew up intuitively knowing upside-down shoes are bad luck, eight crows signify death and a black cat washing its ears means a storm is coming.
But there are many things she did not know.
Omens opens with 24-year-old socialite Olivia Taylor-Jones finding out not only was she adopted, but that her birth parents are convicted sociopathic serial killers. That disturbing information sends her on a quest to the mysterious town of Cainsville, Ill., which has its own quirky history.
But Cainsville is slow to reveal its secrets, and that may frustrate some of the diehard fans Armstrong has built up over a dozen years of writing about strong women in supernatural situations.
The prolific bestselling author (Omens is one of three titles she has out this year) has written 18 fantasy books, a series for young adults, two crime novels and dozens of short stories and novellas expanding the fantasy worlds from her novels.
Armstrong is best known for her 13-book series, Women of the Otherworld, featuring an intricately woven world of regular women who happen to be werewolves, witches, ghosts, demons and vampires.
Fans of the Otherworld series expecting a similar focus on the supernatural will have to settle for brief glimpses into Cainsville's past, the strange people who live there and why Olivia's ability to read omens becomes so much stronger once she moves there.
But impatient readers who want to know more about Cainsville can do a little digging on their own. In a note at the start of the book, Armstrong tells readers she's dropped clues throughout the novel that are easily researched online.
The town, with its superstitions, gargoyles and fortune tellers, comes across as more historically interesting than terrifying. Armstrong's Cainsville is not as truly creepy or dark as Stephen King's Castle Rock, but her angle of Old World omens and magic is a fresh take on supernatural and she has room to build on that in upcoming books. In this first entry of her new trilogy, the supernatural takes a back seat to a much more chilling -- but fun and fast-paced -- murder mystery.
Olivia very reluctantly gets involved in trying to prove her birth parents are innocent of a series of horrific ritualistic murders. She teams up with a private investigator with a shady past she doesn't quite trust, but who is, of course, very good-looking.
As in her other novels, Armstrong does not fall into romantic clich© with this relationship. Much of the fun in the novel comes from watching these two sparring and trying to outsmart each other.
Armstrong creates heroines who are smart and strong, but with real weaknesses and vulnerabilities. They may be wrapped up in the supernatural, but they are realistic and relatable.
Olivia has more than enough personality to keep old fans, while hooking new readers into this new trilogy.
Joanne Kelly teaches journalism at Red River College.