Reviewed by Emerian Rich
For: Readers who enjoy Jack the Ripper stories or horror that takes place in spooky mansions.
Content warning: Jack the Ripper-style murder, abuse, owl attacks.
Owl Manor, The Dawning, by Zita Harrison is a gothic tale that borders on romance but doesn’t forget to bring the terror of living under the thumb of a madman.
This book did not start out like I thought it would. The description doesn’t give any hint of the “Jack the Ripper-like” storyline and not being a fan of that trope, it took me aback a little. The heroine’s voice is also decidedly modern and that, too, popped me out of the story. But I don’t tell you these things to deter you from reading, quite the opposite. After about four chapters, I began to get interested and by the middle of the book, I was glad I gave it a chance to get going.
Set in the unusual location of Denver at the height of the gold rush, this pioneering atmosphere seemed an odd place to begin a gothic mansion horror story. Yet, I found the surroundings absolutely charming, and the depth to which the author wove this little community was absolutely crucial to keeping my interest as the story grew.
What I was most interested in–the manor–doesn’t come into play until later and it is truly the star of the show. Interest in the upstairs/downstairs personalities in a wealthy mansion as well as the odd master creates an atmosphere you both want to be in but also cringe at the thought of. Although I am normally pulled into the female lead and want to watch her battle demons and prevail, my favorite character was Mr. Gilbert, the master’s manservant. The only one privy to a macabre secret held by the master, his story is the one that intrigued me to read on. A good man, he is unwillingly pulled into a desperate situation. If he keeps the master’s horrible secret, he is safe, but if he tries to tell anyone…death surely awaits him.
And then there is the question of the owls. Are they attacking of their own accord? Or are they controlled by some sort of witchcraft to help stop the master’s bloodthirst? Another strange entity in this book is the marsh-soaked ghost woman who creeps about, showing herself only when the viewer will appear most insane by those they tell. The way she can appear solid and seems to be able to mess with the passing of time makes her an original entity worth investigating.
Mr. Gilbert’s story is a great one and although I guess Eva is supposed to be the heroine, I find her more interesting when viewed through Mr. Gilbert’s eyes. He is the character who pulled me in and made me want to see this story to its exciting conclusion.
Although I feel this book started a little too early for my tastes, after it got going, it was a fun read that had me on the edge of my seat. Those last few chapters were nailbiters, wondering what would happen to whom and if the owls would finally get their prey!
This is a great book for those who like books like Rebecca and Jane Eyre.