Book: “Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow” by Christina Henry
Publication Info: Berkley Books, September 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Everyone in Sleepy Hollow knows about the Horseman, but no one really believes in him. Not even Ben Van Brunt’s grandfather, Brom Bones, who was there when it was said the Horseman chased the upstart Crane out of town. Brom says that’s just legend, the village gossips talking.
Twenty years after those storied events, the village is a quiet place. Fourteen-year-old Ben loves to play Sleepy Hollow boys, reenacting the events Brom once lived through. But then Ben and a friend stumble across the headless body of a child in the woods near the village, and the sinister discovery makes Ben question everything the adults in Sleepy Hollow have ever said. Could the Horseman be real after all? Or does something even more sinister stalk the woods?
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I’ve definitely mentioned it before on this blog, but I will do it again and again: I really love “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. I’ve enjoyed it ever since I was a little kid who watched the Disney adaptation, and I eventually got around to reading the short story, just in time for the Tim Burton adaptation that totally changes the story, but in the best way. The last adaptation I read was “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel”, which I reviewed here and really loved. So quite obviously I was interested in “Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow” by Christina Henry. For one, I’ve heard good things about Henry as an author and wanted to give her a try. And the other, of course, is the setting of Sleepy Hollow.
“Horseman”, unfortunately, didn’t really live up to my high hopes for a new Sleepy Hollow story. But, as always, I am going to start with the things about this book that did for for me, and that is mostly our protagonist, Ben. Ben is the grandchild of Brom Bones and Katrina Van Tassel, important characters from the original story in that Ichabod Crane was pursuing Katrina, and Brom Bones was almost assuredly the ‘horseman’ that chased Ichabod out of town. We now see that they have married and Brom is still the town hero, as well as being a successful farmer. Ben is short for Bente, as while Ben appears to be a girl, Ben actually is a boy at heart who wants to live life as his true self. I really liked seeing how Christina Henry had a trans character at the forefront, and how it was presented in a way that felt rooted in the time period as how Ben saw himself. It was also really nice seeing Ben’s relationships with his grandparents Brom and Katrina, as he was orphaned at a young age and Brom and Katrina raised him. I liked how Brom nurtures Ben’s gender identity (though this is most likely because he misses his dead son Bendix, but still, the genuine love he felt for Ben was really good), and while Katrina has a harder time, it’s less based in Ben’s identity and more based in the fact that she wishes that she could have the same relationship that Brom has with Ben, and during this time period gender roles make it so that she can’t connect with Ben as easily. All of this felt pretty genuine and novel to me. Big caveat here, however: as a cis woman, I could be totally off base about how Henry decided to portray a trans character. If there are problematic things about this depiction, please let me know.
But here’s the thing: “Horseman” stumbles in a lot of ways for me when it comes to the things that I like about the “Sleepy Hollow” stories. For one, it’s difficult for me to see Brom Bones as anything other than an antagonistic force. I clearly can’t say that Irving meant for him to be something other than a somewhat bullyish but ultimately ‘boys will be boys’ kind of character, but he has ALWAYS come off as a loutish asshole to me ever since I was a little girl watching the Disney version. I especially have little to no patience for men who do very cruel or abusive things and then have no consequences, or get painted as perhaps tricky but certainly not malevolent. To me, Brom Bones is a villain in the original story, as while Ichabod’s intentions towards Katrina are probably dubious at best, taking advantage of his superstitions and throwing a flaming pumpkin at his head because you are mad he likes the woman you like is pretty gross. So I didn’t like how Henry decided to make him this ‘well boys will be boys’ character, especially given how some things shook out for characters from the original story (no spoilers here, though). Along with that, I thought that the reveal of what was behind the new murders involving headless victims didn’t have the resonance that it needed. Henry didn’t really lay the foundation well, and then by the time we found out what was going on, it didn’t have the emotional impact it should have had. And the biggest issue I had with this? The Horseman plays VERY little role in this book. Ben has a mysterious emotional connection to him, but again, the reasons for it aren’t constructed terribly well, and once THAT whole thing plays out, that, too, felt like it didn’t get to the narrative punch it wanted, and needed, to have.
So while I liked the main character quite a bit, as a “Sleepy Hollow” tale “Horseman” didn’t work very well for me. I am not opposed to check out other books by Christina Henry, but perhaps my next move will be with a story I’m not as connected to or picky about.
Rating 5: I love me a good “Sleepy Hollow” reimagining and Ben was a good protagonist, but “Horseman” didn’t have enough Horseman and was a little too kind to characters who probably didn’t deserve it.
“Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow” is included on the Goodreads list “2021 Horror Releases”.