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Monday, October 18, 2021

Second Look Book Review: Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow By Christina Henry

Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow
By Christina Henry
September 28, 2021
Publisher: Berkeley
ISBN: ‎9780593199787
In this atmospheric, terrifying novel that draws strongly from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," the author of Alice and The Girl in Red works her trademark magic, spinning an engaging and frightening new story from a classic tale.

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.

More than thirty 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 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?

I vividly remember an elementary school writing assignment. It was Halloween and we watched Disney’s interpretation of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. We were then tasked with extending the ambiguous ending of the story. I don’t remember what I wrote, but the story has stayed with me my entire life. For all its autumnal spookiness, this story has always captured my imagination.

Christina Henry’s re-imagining of The Sleepy Hollow Legend is a fantastically layered tale that expertly melds tenderness with the horrific.

Bente “Ben” Van Brunt is the inquisitive, adventurous grandchild of Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt and Katrina Van Tassel. Though born a girl, Ben is a boy to his core. He longs to be just like his larger-than-life Opa Brom. He dismisses Oma Katrina’s relentless attempts to steer Ben into thoroughly feminine pursuits in preparation for domestic wedded bliss: “ ‘How many times have I told you?’ she said, coming out on the porch and grabbing my ear. ‘You are not a boy, Bente, you are a girl, and it’s high time you started acting like one.’ I said nothing, only glared at her. I hated it when Katrina told me this one thing, the one thing that I never wanted to hear.” At 14, Ben is positive he’s a boy, he’s never marrying, and there is magic in Sleepy Hollow. He still carries the wonderment of childhood, but realizes he’s on the cusp of irrevocable experience.

When a boy’s mutilated body is discovered in the woods, belief in the fabled Horseman, and other paranormal beings, is renewed:
But the woods near Sleepy Hollow were not the same as other woods.

There were places deep and dark that no one dared go. No one dared go there because it was known that those places were the haunts of creatures not of this earth. To go there was to invite their notice, and these were not things that you wanted to notice you.
Tenacious and fearless, Ben sets out to uncover the truth and begins to uncover deeply buried town and family secrets. Ben is sure the horseman is real, but more nuanced than a basic villain: “he was all that was beautiful and terrible in the world and I wanted to be beautiful and terrible, too.” Ben’s investigation mirrors his own self-discovery, loss of innocence, and ultimate transformation.

Horseman is a beautifully heartbreaking read. Henry expertly fleshes out the original characters and seamlessly integrates new ones. The inclusion of a trans main grants the tale a fresh, original perspective readers will appreciate. The elements of horror are written with a whimsical sensuality. Horseman is the perfect fall read and will hauntingly echo with readers long after the final page.

Five Sheep

Bianca Greenwood

About the Author:
CHRISTINA HENRY is the author of the national bestselling BLACK WINGS (Ace/Roc) series featuring Agent of Death Madeline Black and her popcorn-loving gargoyle Beezle. She is also the author of the forthcoming dark fantasy ALICE (Ace Trade).

She lives in Chicago with her husband and son.

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