The second volume in Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville series is an enticing follow-up to Omens.

Random House Canada, 2014

Random House Canada, 2014

Those who have read the Otherworld series will recall that the earliest novels concentrated on Elena’s character and here, too, in her return to Cainsville, the main character remains consistent.

Olivia Taylor-Jones is now seeing both omens and visions. You might think it’s “…wonderful to see warnings and signs. But it’s not. For every ounce it makes your life easier, it makes it a pound harder.”

Like Omens, the series’ second installment begins with a vivid and dramatic scene, which not only engages readers’ attentions immediately but also displays Olivia’s character.

She, like many of Kelley Armstrong’s heroines, is ntelligent and responsive,  curious and dynamic. When faced with something horrifying, she is suitably horrified, but she does not simply observe, she takes action (or, at least, acknowledges when she wishes that she had not been too overwhelmed to do so).

Another character recognizes and remarks that Olivia is “a smart girl”, so smart that “you’ll figure it out as soon as you admit there’s something to be figured out. About me. About Cainsville.”

Because there is something to figure out about Cainsville. It is only hinted at in Omens, which takes its time (nearly five-hundred pages) introducing the settting and characters, and Visions does not offer full explanations either.

What is explored more fully here, however, is Olivia’s character, as well the dynamics between her and other characters (some of whom are present in Omens and one new individual who plays a substantial role in this second volume).

Olivia’s strength and determination are consistent with other Armstrong heroines, like Elena (whom readers met in Bitten and Broken), but Olivia is a more polished and privileged woman, the sort who is as likely to attend high-class evening events with the who’s-who crowd as she is likely to break into a seemingly-abandoned rural home to rescue a cat.

What these characters share, however, is a sense of rootlessness and a desire to belong; they resemble the young heroines in so many children’s stories, actual-orphans or near-orphans, but girls-all-grown-up, explorers and dragon-slayers who yearn for connection and a true “home”. In the meantime, they satisfy their needs in other ways.

“My first taste of a drug I’d never forget. No merry-go-rounds for me. I wanted roller coasters. I wanted go-carts and snow sleds. Faster. Higher.”

But these characters are multi-dimensional, and although they are often depicted as courageous fighters, presented in contrast to more traditionally feminine heroines, they are equally capable of turning sexist expectations against those who prefer their heroines weak and mild.  (“Basically, I did a dead-on impersonation of a helpless blond kitten.”)

Given that the novel is rooted in Olivia’s experiences, it’s unsurprising to find that other characters do possess the kind of information that Olivia seeks: at least, more information, if not complete information.

“That’s what she [not Olivia] felt most of all. That it didn’t belong in Cainsville. This was no ordinary town. She’d always known that. As for exactly what its peculiarities hid, she’d been raised not to question, and she didn’t. Her soul rested quietest that way.”

This kind of subtle layering to the idea of there being more to unearth adds to the novel’s tension, so that even while substantial time is spent developing character, readers are pulled into the broader sense of mystery in the story too.

But Kelley Armstrong readers will find the same dedication to carefully structured action scenes, short and long, which characterize her other fiction.

Sometimes these are quietly unsettling. (“I could see him outside, but the reflection of the lights against the glass made him seem to disappear as he walked. Not vanish or fade, but blend into his surroundings.”)

Other times, they are boldly adrenaline-soaked. (“Our earlier chase had been a playful game of hide-and-seek. This was a hunt.”)

As prominent as characterization is in these novels, Kelley Armstrong’s stories are true page-turners. For those readers looking for more detail about these stories, the publisher’s summary is here, along with links to earlier works, but the spoiler-phobic reader should steer away, for the blurb for Visions describes situations which reveal the outcome of Omens and some key developments in the second volume.

As such, it would be possible to read Visions as a standalone novel, because the events in the series’ first volume are skillfully summarized in a seemingly-casual way and offered on an as-needed basis, but given the attention to characterization, the story will not resonate as strongly with readers who are unfamiliar with the deeper issues which preoccupy Olivia’s character.

But dedicated Kelley Armstrong readers wouldn’t think of missing Omens anyway; they would be more likely to reread a copy of it than to skip past it.

If you would like to be entered in a draw for a copy of Visions, please read on for the relevant details.

Giveaway Details: Kelley Armstrong’s novel Visions is published in hardcover by Random House Canada and this opportunity to win a copy requires that you reside in Canada; if you win the copy, you will need to share your mailing address with me.

Please leave a comment as an entry which includes some bookchat, about Visions or another of her works, or elaborate on your interest in this particular book/author. (If you wish to comment but not be entered for the giveaway, simply say so, and I will withhold your name from the draw.)

Entries will be received until midnight (EST) Friday October 31, 2014 and I will email the winner.