I’m a die-hard Christina Henry fan and I will always insta-buy her horror. I was a bit wary when Mouse didn’t like this one, but it turned out to be one of those rare books where our tastes differed because I had a lot of fun with this not-quite-a-retelling of the Sleepy Hollow story.
Rating: 4 stars!
Thanks to Titan Books for the eARC of this book. It has not affected my honest review.
Content Warnings: gore, blood, violence, animal death, character death, sexual harassment, attempted assault, period typical racism, transphobia and homophobia, misgendering and deadnaming.
About the book:
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?
What did I think?
I actually don’t know the legend of Sleepy Hollow very well. I watched a few episodes of a Sleepy Hollow tv show years ago, but have never delved much deeper into it, so most of what I know comes from pop culture references to the Headless Horseman. From what I can tell, though, this book is much more a Sleepy Hollow continuation as opposed to a strict retelling. I actually kind of preferred that as it allowed Henry to delve into lots of fresh new aspects and create a character that we hadn’t seen before.
Ben, as our main character, was a really interesting perspective. I liked him a lot, both as a child and, after a time skip later in the book, as an adult. He was brash and reckless, selfish in moments and constantly quick to anger. But I loved this, because it felt incredibly true to character for a teenager growing up with split expectations – to become his father from his grandfather, or to be a girly-girl from his grandmother – and the pressure of being a trans character in the 1800s (if that time period is wrong, my bad, I failed GCSE history). I was initially a little wary when I realised Henry had given us a trans protagonist, as in my experience this can be handled badly in historical fiction, but I think she did well in the way he was written and treated by other characters and I liked having a queer protagonist in a Christina Henry horror novel! More trans horror is needed tbh.
HORSEMAN is a very atmospheric read. It’s gripping from the early pages and its relatively short page count works really well in combination with the slow and sinister pacing. This is a glancing-over-your-shoulder kind of read and the small-town setting really added to that. I love horror stories set in little towns, especially when you add a gloomy and threatening forest to that, because there’s a real sense of uncanny fear from knowing that the protagonist knows everyone in town and that one of them is a monster or a villain anyway. Adding to that the legend of the Headless Horseman threaded throughout the novel and I was constantly going back and forth between whether the threat was human or supernatural as I read.
I have seen a fair amount of mixed opinions on the ending of this book, but I really loved it. The final section of this book, after Ben is all grown up, is really emotive and powerful and I didn’t see the last few twists coming. I found myself genuinely emotional by the end of HORSEMAN and that’s rare for a horror novel.
Release Date: 28th September 2021