science fiction and fantasy book reviewsDark Shadows: Heiress of Collinwood by Lara Parker horror book reviewsHeiress of Collinwood by Lara Parker

Heiress of Collinwood (2016) is the fourth DARK SHADOWS novel written by Lara Parker, who happens to have been an original cast member on the gothic horror soap opera Dark Shadows, which ran on American television from 1966 – 1971 and has inspired a large number of tie-in novels. (Ms. Parker starred in the role of Angélique Bouchard Collins, in addition to a few other characters.) Contrary to the comedic tone of Tim Burton’s 2012 film based on the show, the original soap opera was quite serious and melodramatic, and Heiress of Collinwood follows that same vein.

Book 1

Our tale begins in Collinsport, Maine, in the distant year of 1797. The Collins family’s young governess, Victoria Winters, previously became unstuck in time, shaken loose from the swinging 1970s and sent back two centuries in order to remain with the man she loves, a lawyer named Peter. Her modern sensibilities and independence are difficult to let go of, however, and Victoria finds herself drawn away from gossiping villagers in favor of the traveling Roma caravan which has set up camp near town. Something about the gypsies appeals to Victoria in a way she can’t identify, but while she is in the midst of an impromptu dance circle, an angry villager violently assaults her; the man is Edward Wicks, whose sister Phyllis mysteriously died in Victoria’s stead when she was put on trial for witchcraft (a plot point from season two of Dark Shadows). Peter and Edward duel over Victoria’s honor, and when it goes badly, Victoria takes a lethal dose of poison.

Book 2

Instead of permanently dying, however, she is sent back to her own time and an unfamiliar life as an investigative television journalist in Bangor, Maine, in the year 1972. Apparently, Victoria’s specialty is gruesome and mysterious deaths, and it seems her investigative skills have even aided the police in closing previously unsolved crimes. She receives a strange letter directing her to come to Collinsport with all haste, in order to resolve an urgent issue concerning the Collins family. Naturally, she makes the trip, only to discover that the Great House is empty, the family and staff have vanished, and if she cannot prove a legitimate claim to the ancestral property, it will be sold to condominium developers. Victoria, knowing nothing about her true parentage or personal history beyond her early life in an orphanage, sets out to solve both mysteries while simultaneously coping with nightly glimpses of a cloaked figure at the Old House and the romantic advances of Stephon, an Austrian man with an uncanny resemblance to Victoria’s husband Peter.

If you’re at all familiar with the Dark Shadows soap opera, you’ll see immediately that Heiress of Collinwood is extremely faithful to the plot arcs and character development explored within the show, as well as some character details that were hinted at but never resolved on screen. Familiarity with the TV show, however, isn’t necessary in order to understand the setting or the behavior of any characters in the novel; Parker does an excellent job of incorporating details from Dark Shadows into the story, ensuring that readers are completely up-to-speed on who these people are and what motivates them. Additionally, Parker fully embraces the influence of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre on the character of Victoria Winters, incorporating an awareness of elements of that novel and titular character within Heiress of Collinwood.

Book 3

Supernatural elements abound; there’s the aforementioned time travel, the vampire Barnabas Collins, ghosts and spectres flitting through drafty corridors, an ominous gathering of crows, and much more. It’s all perfectly in keeping with the Gothic themes of the larger Dark Shadows universe, and though there are a few coincidences that strain credulity, the overall effect is appropriately gloomy and mysterious. Victoria’s inexperience and innocence occasionally drift into frustratingly daft, especially when she ignores obvious warning signs and repeatedly puts herself in unnecessary danger. Parker relies a little too often on knocking her narrator unconscious in order to move the plot forward: Victoria so often faints, or is drugged, or falls into a time-wandering fugue state, that I began to wonder if this young woman should be trusted to walk around without supervision. This commonly-used plot device on screen becomes repetitive with overuse on the page, and turns an inquisitive and intelligent narrator into a bit of a bumbler.

That said, Heiress of Collinwood is fun to read, with plenty of romance and intrigue, and if this fourth installment is any indication, I’d say that Parker’s previous DARK SHADOWS novels — Angélique’s Descent (1998), The Salem Branch (2006), and Wolf Moon Rising (2012) are an excellent companion for Dark Shadows rewatches, expanding upon and embodying everything fans have enjoyed about the show for decades. It’s great to see a beloved television property take on new life in a different medium, and Parker is clearly the right person to steer this ship.

Published November 8, 2016. Dark Shadows: Heiress of Collinwood is the continuing the story of the classic TV show, Dark Shadows by series star, Lara Parker. “My name is Victoria Winters, and my journey continues . . . .” An orphan with no knowledge of her origins, Victoria Winters first came to the great house of Collinwood as a Governess. It didn’t take long for the Collins family’s many buried secrets, haunted history, and rivalries with evil forces to catch up to Victoria and cast the newcomer adrift in time, trapped between life and death. At last returned to the present, Victoria is called back to Collinwood by a mysterious letter. Hoping to fill in the gaps of her memories by meeting with the people who knew her best, Victoria returns to the aging mansion. However, she soon discovers that the entire Collins family is missing―except for Barnabas Collins, a vampire whose own dark curse is well known. Victoria discovers that she has been named sole heir to the estate, if only she can prove her own identity. Beset by danger and dire warnings, Victoria must discover what dread fate has befallen Collinwood, even as she finally uncovers a shocking truth long hidden in the shadows . . .


  • Jana Nyman

    JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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