I’ve always enjoyed the story of Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman. I feel like it is a story that most people know, but it is not really fully fleshed out unless you’ve read or watched certain things about it. Christina Henry’s Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow, attempts to create a narrative that adds a unique perspective, but also helps to add onto the scarce folklore and mythos surrounding the Headless Horseman.
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?
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
When I think of the Headless Horseman, there are two things that come to mind. A cartoon version I watched as a kid, with the school teacher, Ichabod Crane, getting chased by the headless horseman with a covered bridge that is important for some reason. I do not remember there being much of a plot in that version. Next is the movie with Johnny Depp, Christopher Walken, and Christina Ricci. It’s definitely a very different version that went more into the lore behind the headless horseman, but I’m not sure how true it is to the original story. Regardless, this was all I was working with when I began reading Henry’s version of the story.
Henry’s Horseman gives a different perspective to the story of the Headless Horseman, happening decades after the events of Ichabod Crane and Bram Bones. When there are dead bodies of children found without heads, the legend of the Horseman begins to rear its ugly head in Sleepy Hollow. While the town does not fully believe in the legend as Bram himself insists it was all a rumor and gossip, the town starts to reconsider what they thought they knew about their town.
Ben is the grandchild of Bram Bones, struggling to live up to and almost replace Bram and Katrina’s only child also named Ben, our narrator’s father who died when Ben was a young child. As a result of trying to live up to being Bram’s son Ben, Ben, our narrator, refuses to live as the girl that he was biologically born as, much to the chagrin of his grandmother, Katrina. This aspect of identity struggle for Ben was an interesting addition to this story, increasing the complexity of this family and their life.
Ben’s family always kept the stories of the Horseman a secret, never discussing it with Ben, even though his grandfather was a major player in this legend. This secrecy extends beyond to the circumstances of his parent’s death, as the stories he has heard do not add up. As you continue reading, you learn that not only are the legends not necessarily correct, but Henry definitely throws the reader for a loop introducing another more evil supernatural force into the mix.
Henry’s Horseman becomes more than just a scary story about the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. Instead, it becomes more of a story about family and identity. Ben’s family addresses dark pasts and regrets as well as acceptance of identity and individual choice.
I would not consider Horseman to be a retelling of the story of Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman, but instead an additional story of the subsequent events of the Horseman with a different interpretation of the traditional events, decades later. Regardless, I found this an interesting story in this Sleepy Hollow universe with a very compelling narrator.