Review: Owl Manor – the Final Stroke by Zita Harrison
Author Zita Harrison is adept at writing Gothic horror. Her careful use of language, setting, and symbolism bring her tales to a life of their own. This third is the final book in the Owl Manor series and the only thing I’m disappointed in is that the series has ended. I’ve enjoyed each volume more than the last.
In this story, thirty years have passed and it’s 1904. The historical references explored within the novel are fascinating in their own right. I marveled at how difficult road trips must have been when automobiles had to compete with horses on unreliably paved roads, but I was surprised to learn that phones were already being installed in private homes.
I was pleased that the author portrayed how people pushed the boundaries of social rules back then: some women even wore pants! Central character Dolores’s “shocking” preference for culottes reminded me of how females were still protesting skirts-or-dresses-only rules for women at school and work sixty years later. Though the novel doesn’t insert politics overtly into the story, the seemingly eternal fight for fair treatment for women does seem to be an underlying theme.
I think the author was successful at balancing Dolores’s nonconformity with keeping her believably rooted to their time. She doesn’t invent the pantsuit, yet she and the other characters seem modern and relatable.
The three at the heart of the story became close friends in college, despite their different interests and temperaments. Dolores, or Didi, was the easiest for me to identify with. I liked her positive attitude, poise, sensitivity, and kindness. She’s a talented artist. Rachel, determined, capable, and sometimes abrasive, is an adventurous chef and dreams of her own restaurant. Kitty, lovely, sweet, and charming, loves the theater and wants to write and perform her own plays.
I appreciated that the recent graduates want to establish their own careers instead of relying on marriage for their security. Since their talents complement each other, they’re inspired to create a unique business together. Their search for a location for the proposed project fatefully leads them to Owl Manor and, uninformed about the history of the house, they move right in.
The odd behavior of the owls and Didi’s terrifyingly clairvoyant dreams soon make her aware that some malevolent force is at work. The author skillfully builds suspense as disagreements between Didi, Rachel, Kitty, and members of Kitty’s theater troupe drive the three friends apart and make each more vulnerable. As Owl Manor wakes up, it doesn’t take long for the energies there to affect them all and bring them to the breaking point.
There is subject matter that might be triggers for some, including violence, drug use, psychological manipulation, and suggestive behavior. There’s also a chaste, upbeat romance that offers a needed contrast.
Thank you so much to Zita Harrison, who made me aware that the conclusion to the Owl Manor story was finally available. Thank you to NetGalley for the free advance reader’s copy. My review is not written out of any obligation or as repayment, but my thanks is well-deserved. The Final Stroke is a fast-paced, scary, perplexing, and exciting book and makes a truly satisfying conclusion to the Owl Manor epic. I can’t recommend it enough!