Horseman Book Review: The Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Christina Henry

I’m sure we all have fond memories of our teachers riding a TV cart. Regardless of the purpose, it meant a break from the usual school day. And of course, I am no different. I also liked cinema days. However, one day stands out with particularly sharp relief – the day we watched The legend of Sleepy Hollow. I’m sure I only vaguely knew his literary origins, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that he hit all of Salome’s buttons: creepy as hell, mysterious German villain, pumpkins? and a nocturnal setting. That feeling didn’t fade away, so I jumped at the chance to review the book Rider, by Christine Henry.

Another story from Sleepy Hollow

It’s actually a reference to the full title of the book, by the way. It is Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow. And if you are not familiar with the original Legend of Sleepy Hollow, so here’s the basic story. In the village of Sleepy Hollow, New York, the local schoolmaster is a bean named Ichabod Crane. Originally from Connecticut, he’s a bit of an outsider.

He’s popular with local women, because he’s a bit of a gossip, but not popular enough. He wants to marry Katrina Van Tassel, largely because she is very wealthy. Her only obstacles are tough guy Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt and oh, the fact that Katrina isn’t that interested.

One night at a harvest party at Van Tassels, Crane considers taking action. He intends to propose to Katrina, but it apparently doesn’t go well. Seemingly rejected, Crane sets off on Gunpowder, a fairly average horse. However, they weren’t the only ones on the road that night.

image via disney

There is a local legend of the Headless Horseman, allegedly the ghost of a Hessian who fell from the War of Independence. (Oh yes, this story takes place in 1790.) And that’s what Crane meets on a dark country road. He rides desperately towards the bridge where the Horseman is supposed to disappear. Crane manages to cross, but the Horseman throws his own head at Ichabod, knocking him down from Gunpowder.

The next day, all that’s left on deck is Gunpowder’s saddle, a crushed pumpkin, and Ichabod’s hat. Rumors are rife, including stories that it was all just a Brom Bones-orchestrated joke. They also say that Crane left town to marry a wealthy woman elsewhere. But no one in Sleepy Hollow will ever see him again.

Is the rider back?

In the original Washington Irving story, Brom Bones and Katrina get married. By the time we meet them in Rider, it’s been a long time since the days of Hesse. The Van Brunts are now the grandparents of 14-year-old Bente Van Brunt, who as a trans boy is now called Ben. The Elders Van Brunt are now raising him alone since the death of their son and daughter-in-law.

Ben is a fiery young man, who loves nothing more than wandering the local woods, playing “Sleepy Hollow Boys” with his best friend, Sander. Ben still plays his grandfather, much to his Sander’s dismay. But they’re having fun – who doesn’t love playing spooky games in the woods?

Well, that sort of thing gets a little more serious when a group of local men, including Brom Bones, discover the body of another young teenager in these woods. The body is in terrible shape, and they don’t know who could be responsible. Or what could be responsible. But all those old stories were just stories, right?

This is what everyone is trying to tell themselves, even as other bodies show up. It would be bad enough, but now young Ben hears voices. Well he hears a voice, which Ben understands to be the rider himself. He also saw a creature, distinct from the Horseman, feed on one of the victims. His Opa and Oma are doing their best to protect him, but what exactly is the danger?

Rider Book review

Like Henri’s Near the bone, which I mentioned in my Pop Culture Free Time of February 2021, Rider is essentially a spooky chronicle of woodland monsters. It’s both my jam and my origin story, so I was really there for that. Add to that the fact that this is a rendition of one of my favorite childhood scary sons, like I said, and I was chomping at the bit. Horse humor.

rider book review image via Berkley

Anyway, for the most part, I liked the book. It’s atmospheric and often evokes the feeling of being in a dark wood. However, it was not completely satisfactory for me. Maybe that’s because it works more like a coming-of-age tale than a riff on The legend of Sleepy Hollow.

I know it’s billing, I told you before. But I felt like the new story was bolted onto the old one, and not entirely successfully. I would have liked a little more terror. I would also have liked to show a little more and tell less. We talk a lot in this book.

Speaking of speaking, I’ve read reviews that have raised concerns about handling the transgender scenario. Personally, I have also found this to be one of the weakest aspects of the book as a whole. However, it’s really not my path, so I shouldn’t be the last word.

As for my last word, most of my Rider book review is that I’m generally positive about it. I wish it had been a little less repetitive and a lot scarier, but overall the emotional component was enough.

Rider is now available.

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featured image via Berkley

Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy nature of southern Alabama. When she’s not screaming about internet pop culture, she’s working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Plus, we’re pretty sure she’s a werewolf. Email him at [email protected]

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