Owl Manor – The Dawning is the first in Zita Harrison’s new series of Gothic suspense novels set in 19th century America.
Owl Manor – The Dawning focuses on the protagonist, Eva, a strong-willed woman dissatisfied with her life because she is trapped in a loveless marriage and regularly downtrodden by men. 19th century society is not merely oppressive though; it is dangerous – women mysteriously vanish and are found dead in the streets. In search of financial security and safety, Eva seeks employment at Owl Manor in the Rocky Mountains, a dark place said to harbour dark secrets. However, Eva’s actions may have placed herself and her daughter in even greater danger.
The book begins with some beautifully vivid descriptions in order to set the scene, and these descriptions were a pleasure to read.
At first, I thought the characters’ sightings of owls was a just a coincidental and tenuous link to the title but, as the story developed, the supernatural and sinister reason behind the presence of owls became clear, which I liked.
I also liked the Victorian setting and style of the book, which reminded me of classic Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Whilst the dialogue was occasionally anachronistic for the 1850s, I didn’t find this to be a major problem because I enjoyed the story and the characters so much that these anachronisms didn’t “spoil” the book.
Eva is a rational and sympathetic character who is mostly well-described. However, some of her actions and thoughts didn’t seem consistent with what I’d been to lead to understand about her. For example, Eva sees and accepts ghosts and apparitions without a second glance. We are not told Eva anywhere is a particularly spiritual or superstitious person, so the fact she accepts the presence of ghosts without the slightest hesitation or disbelief seems unrealistic. Furthermore, much like Jane Eyre, Eve becomes a servant in Owl Manor, where the master takes an interest in her and demands she stay with him as his companion. When this happens, Eva suddenly becomes subservient and submissive. I found this to be an inconsistency because, until this point, Eva actively complained about, and challenged, any man who attempted to oppress or abuse women. Consequently, Eva’s behavioural change just doesn’t seem right – especially when the book foregrounds so emphatically what society was like for women in this period.
Despite my (hopefully) constructive criticism however, I still greatly enjoyed reading Owl Manor – The Dawning and finished it in just a few days. The ending was unexpected and, as Harrison is planning to write more books in this series, I am intrigued because I do not know what will happen next.
Star Rating: 3.5/5