I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overal): 2 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Audio (September 28, 2021)
Length: 8 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Em Grosland
Christina Henry has made a name for herself with her dark retellings of classic fairy tales and fantasy legends, but Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow is really more of her imagining of a sequel to the Washington Irving story. In this novel, we follow fourteen-year-old Ben Van Brunt, who was born a girl but has always identified more as a boy. Approximately twenty years have passed since Ichabod Crane’s infamous encounter with the Headless Horseman, but the tales have since lived on in local gossip and in the games of children. One day, while re-enacting those events with the other youngsters in town, Ben comes across the body of one of his playmates in the woods, missing his head and hands. Soon, the news of this gruesome find has everyone in Sleepy Hollow asking some uncomfortable questions.
However, Ben’s grandfather Brom “Bones” Van Brunt insists that the Horseman isn’t real, and he should know better than most. As someone who was actually there when it all went down nearly two decades ago, if Brom says it’s all just a legend, then that should be the end of it, case closed. And yet, Ben still can’t help but wonder, not to mention the fact he’s sure there’s also more out there in the woods, something even more monstrous and evil than the Horseman, though its intentions are just as nebulous. Ben then finds out that his grandparents haven’t been completely truthful to him when it comes to their family history and the fate of his parents, which now casts doubt on everything Brom and his grandmother Katrina have ever claimed, including what they’ve said about the existence of the Horseman.
It took several days for me to gather my thoughts after finishing this book. Initially, I was going to give it 3 stars, but now that I’ve had some time to mull it over, I think I’ll be downgrading it to 2. Needless to say, I was disappointed in Horseman, and I think the last time I felt this let down by a Henry novel was with The Girl in Red, except this somehow feels worse. At least with The Girl in Red, it became clear relatively early on that the author was only basing the story on a loose interpretation of the source material, while Horseman, ostensibly touted as a sequel to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, felt more like a bait-and-switch.
Overall, there was minimal effort on Henry’s part into making the world feel reminiscent of the original classic. Sure, she may have provided names of a handful of familiar people and places, but details and descriptions were noticeably sparse. None of the characters, including our protagonist, felt like real people exhibiting motivations, personalities or behaviors that felt all that convincing. For example, reactions to shocking events, like finding a mutilated body of a child in the woods, or discovering an astounding new fact about your neighbor who you thought you’ve known your whole life, etc. came across as muted and completely unrealistic.
As some reviewers have noted, the matter of Ben’s gender was also handled rather poorly. Whatever happened to showing, not telling? There’s hardly any development beyond Ben’s endless exposition. At a certain point, the story also skips ten years ahead to Ben having already established his new identity and life in one of the most egregious examples of glossing over I’ve ever seen. But hey, at least in the end we find out that Ben’s gender actually has an essential role in the story’s final reveal so the issue wasn’t just tacked on, because that’s the only way this whole thing could have turned out worse.
Anyway, I hate to even think this, because I still respect the hell out of Christina Henry, she who wrote such brilliant works such as the Chronicles of Alice series or Lost Boy, but I was struck with the impression that Horseman was just an excuse to churn out a quick book. It felt rushed and lazy, and certainly not of the same caliber as her other aforementioned fairy-tale and mythical legend inspired novels. I suppose there is some entertainment value here if you are interested in the original Sleepy Hollow tale, but I was really looking forward to this and can’t say I was very happy with the way things turned out. At least the narrator for the audiobook did a good job though, and I’ll be watching out for any more of Em Grosland’s performances.