When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina – unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina’s father favors.
But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together – all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow’s legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows’s Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.
Enlisting the help of her friend – and rumored witch – Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane’s disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional – often magical – means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all.
So based on that description, what I was expecting was a spooky story from Katrina’s perspective with lots of witchy vibes and a mystery as to what happened to Ichabod Crane. I grew up loving the story of the Headless Horseman, and love various retellings of the original story.
I will say, this story is super atmospheric. I was all about the woods surrounding Sleepy Hollow, and how it always gave off the vibe of Katrina and Ichabod being watched. And I loved Charlotte, a new character added to the classic tale. She’s this kinda witchy midwife in training, and she was…honestly the most fleshed out character in the story. She read tarot cards, she collected herbs with her mother (the closest thing the village has to a doctor), she has visions. Like, she’s a girl I’d hang out with for sure.
The story is also beautifully written, and author Alyssa Palombo totally did her research. Like, A+ on the research done for this story. The imagery is absolutely lovely.
But what I was expecting was…definitely not what I got. I think this entire book only passes the Bechdel test in one scene between Katrina and Nancy, her mother’s servant who moves in with Katrina. Almost every single trope I strongly dislike was front and present in this book (which makes me so sad, because I was so excited about it). We’ve got:
- Not Like the Other Girls
- Closed-Minded Brute
- A bad version of Enemies to Lovers
and the Van Tassels hire on free black people to work on their farm. Okay, keep in mind, this book is set slightly post-Revolutionary War in upstate New York. So like. Slavery is a thing still. And it may have been the case, but I truly do not see a farming family hiring on black workers and paying them equal wages without getting some maaaaaajor flak from the rest of the community. Plus there are more…modern outlooks on contraceptives than I would’ve expected. So that’s more of just a weird anachronism thing on my part.
The book focused way more on the romance between Ichabod and Katrina than on like…magic? Or science that would’ve been considered magic? It’s 300 pages before Katrina talks to Charlotte about maybe consulting tarot cards and trying to see visions in fire. And even though this is a Sleepy Hollow story, the Horseman isn’t as front and center as I would’ve thought or hoped. I think if you took out the historical factor and the folklore, it would’ve fit in with modern NA romance. But hey, at least Alexander Hamilton is name-dropped!
Beautifully written but not exactly what I was expecting, I give The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel 2 out of 5 pumpkins. A huge thank you to St. Martin’s Griffin for sending me a finished copy in exchange for review.