Horseman (A Tale of Sleepy Hollow) by Christina Henry

My Five Word TL:DR Review: I think I misled myself


To be fair to the author, I will immediately hold up my hands and say that my own secret wishes and desires led me a little down the garden (or forest) path with this particular book.  I’ve already read a couple of books by this author and really enjoyed them and so, basically, when I saw this book (with that cover) my tiny little brain went into overdrive and frankly pulled a number on me. What I was really wishing for was a blood soaked retelling of the Headless Horseman’s story – and let’s be clear here – this is certainly the right author to give us that book.  I wanted to return to Sleepy Hollow and for Henry to give us a blood curdling shock or two.  In actual fact this doesn’t promise to be a retelling at all but a continuation of the  original story – so there you go, my bad.  I also confess that given the month of October, Halloween approaching, and all things creepy generally pervading the air like a virus, yes, I wanted a good dose of the chills – again, my expectations kind of got the better of me in that respect – so, my bad, AGAIN.

So, the above confessed, the air cleared, I can say that I loved the storytelling voice here, I really like Christina Henry’s style.  But, and of course there was going to be a but, this one just didn’t really work for me and I can’t help feeling all naffed off (much more than the actual story warrants) because I feel like a retelling of Sleepy Hollow could have been so good, particularly in the hands of this author, and so now I feel kind of cheated.

As I said, this is a continuation from the grandchild of Brom Bones, Ben Van Brunt.  Ben and her friend frequently play in the woods surrounding the village until one day a body is found, the hands and head are missing and this gruesome discovery is then followed by the finding of another, similarly mutilated body.

Ben has always had a love of the woods, she imagines herself to be watched and almost protected by the idea of the Horseman.  This is oddly out of sync with the rest of the village who fear the forest and are still deeply suspicious.  There’s very much a ‘small village’ type of mentality shrouding Sleepy Hollow, it hasn’t moved forward with the times and is still cloaked in mystery.  Outsiders don’t seem to stick around and there is an overall feeling of sadness that seems to permeate the place.

Like I mentioned above.  I did love the writing here.  I got a good feel for the place and the people.  There’s a constant yo-yo ing of affection between Ben and her grandparents as each of them seem to vy for attention.  Ben adores her grandfather, partly because (I think) he feels so big and strong, people defer to him naturally and he also makes Ben feel accepted just as she is.  Basically, Ben wants to be a boy, and this is a theme that plays a large role in the story here but, personally, I’m not sure it was really well explored and I’m struggling to define why that is.  I guess, at the end of the day, it feels like there’s more telling than showing and in some ways it feels like the emotional side of the story overshadowed all the other aspects.  It just feels out of balance somehow or as though the author maybe lost focus with too many different ideas trying to fill a relatively small space.

In terms of the overall plot and the eventual reveal.  I’m sorry to say that my overall feelings were ones of confusion and disappointment.  There is more than one monster in these woods – imagine that, it could have been so good – but, the final reveal felt a little lacklustre.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers here which is why I’m struggling to make my feelings clear but I guess overall I think both ‘monsters’ fell a little flat.

I think I’m going to end this review here.  My ideas are a bit of a mess and I’ve had a real dilemma writing this review, rewriting it a couple of times already, so I’m going to call it a day and quit now.

Basically, I think my own ideas got in the way of this story’s success.  I wanted something that was never actually promised and so ultimately I was disappointed.  If you fancy a continuation of the legend of Sleepy Hollow this might be just what you’re looking for.  Unfortunately it didn’t work it’s magic on me although I love this author and will very much look forward to her next book.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 2.5 of 5 stars

Waiting on Wednesday : Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Christina Henry

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is :  Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Christina Henry – because I’ve read two of her books and loved them.  Give it to me now:

horsemanIn this atmospheric, terrifying novel that draws strongly from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the author of Alice and The Girl in Red works her trademark magic, spinning an engaging and frightening new story from a classic tale.

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?

Expected publication : September 2021

Near the Bone by Christina Henry

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Cryptid monster horror survival story

neartheboneNear the Bone is my second Christina Henry story and I seem to be on a roll because I enjoyed this one as much as the last one I read (The Ghost Tree).  

This is a psychological as well as slasher style horror story.  There are plenty of double meanings together with a setting that feels almost claustrophobic.

As the story begins we meet Mattie.  She’s doing the rounds, checking the traps for animals caught when she comes across a dead fox.  The fox hasn’t been eaten, just mauled and left, which is unusual in itself, added to that, the strange tracks that accompany the kill really give Mattie pause (paws or maybe even claws) for thought.  They look like bear prints, but on a massive scale.  Mattie doesn’t however have time to dwell, no lollygagging or gathering wool here, back to the cabin with haste before she receives punishment for her tardy behaviour.  She tells her husband of her grisly find and the two set out to follow the tracks – which mysteriously disappear.

Mattie has lived with William for as long as she can remember.  she sometimes has snatches of fleeting memories that elude her before she can grasp their meaning.  Meanwhile, William is always there, watching, controlling, and punishing her.  Mattie has learned to be quiet, to speak only when spoken to and to make herself almost unnoticeable.  The appearance of a second monster into her life spells real trouble but maybe also the possibility of escape.

I’m not going to go into the relationship between Mattie and Williams other than to say it is an abusive one.  Mentally and physically abusive (so keep that in mind).  Mattie is on the verge of becoming a shadow self, she’s beaten, raped and starved on a regular basis and yet, because of the length of time she has spent enduring such horrors she doesn’t realise just how terrible her situation really is.  She is William’s wife, she must obey him and be dutiful.  The appearance of a second monster on their isolated mountain really upsets the strange existence they have.  First, William becomes almost unhinged about the presence of an unusual creature sharing their space (with reason as will be eventually revealed).  Second, rumours of a mysterious critter brings strangers to the mountain in search of myths and legends.  Both of these act as catalysts to trigger memories in Mattie that leave her questioning the life she has accepted as normal.

Okay, I won’t really go into the plot with this one.  We have a creature capable of stalking unseen and unheard, the very forests themselves go quiet upon its approach.  It can remain unseen if it wishes and it’s tracks oftentimes disappear.  We have William, a monster himself by all accounts.  Armed and dangerous he resolves to rid the mountain of this newcomer and threat to his life.

So, the setting is great.  High on a mountain.  No roads.  Freezing cold temperatures.  This is not the sort of place that people seek out as a rule.  It really plays into the story giving it a ‘closed’ feel. Hemmed in for the most part by cliffs there is basically one route on or off the mountain.  No electricity, wi-fi or roads.  It’s your basic nightmare, particularly when there’s a huge creature running around outside and for the most part if feels like the characters run around in ever decreasing circles never gaining any momentum.

The characters.  Well, William is an absolute horror and almost invincible in the way that only truly bad characters in horror stories can be.  Mattie is a great character.  You really, I mean REALLY, feel for her.  The terror and desperation she feels on a regular basis – before three strangers stumble into her life and unwittingly try to help her – giving her not just new feelings about what is really happening but also massive guilt because they have now become her responsibility.

What I really liked about this is the tension that Henry creates.  The characters quite often stumble around in circles making outrageous mistakes, much akin to teenagers in a Halloween movie, and the only one that seems capable or really perceiving the threat is Mattie.  Strangely enough, Mattie and the creature almost seem to understand each other in the most unusual way.  I wont’ say more because I don’t want to give away spoilers.

The other thing that I really liked is that this is a look at the real monsters that are present in our everyday lives that we simply fail to see.  Of course, a huge hairy creature with long claws, a monumental roar and exceptional strength and speed, yes, now that’s a monster, but at the same time maybe it’s simply a creature also trying to survive on instinct.  

I really enjoyed this one.  I’m not going to say it didn’t have a few plot holes here or there or that at times it wasn’t frustrating in the way that slasher horrors can be annoying, but, it kept me pretty much glued to the page.  A strange combination of psychological thriller and creature feature horror.  Sleeping with the Enemy meets Predator meets ‘insert whatever horror you deem most approrpriate after reading’.  

To be clear, when I say I ‘enjoyed’ this – well, I was hooked, about Mattie’s story initially but then about the creature and the final outcome.  However, perhaps ‘enjoyed’ is the wrong word in some respects.  To be clear, there are strong themes present here plus a level of slasher horror that will make some readers grab for the nearest cushion to hide behind.  You have been warned.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 of 5 stars.


Can’t Wait Wednesday : Near the Bone by Christina Henry

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : Near the Bone by Christina Henry:


A woman trapped on a mountain attempts to survive more than one kind of monster, in a dread-inducing horror novel from the national bestselling author Christina Henry.

Mattie can’t remember a time before she and William lived alone on a mountain together. She must never make him upset. But when Mattie discovers the mutilated body of a fox in the woods, she realizes that they’re not alone after all.

There’s something in the woods that wasn’t there before, something that makes strange cries in the night, something with sharp teeth and claws.

When three strangers appear on the mountaintop looking for the creature in the woods, Mattie knows their presence will anger William. Terrible things happen when William is angry.

Expected publication : April 2021

The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

Posted On 7 September 2020

Filed under Book Reviews
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Comments Dropped 16 responses


My Five Word TL:DR Review : Compelling, light horror with depth

I have to say that The Ghost Tree really worked very well indeed for me. On a superficial level this is a coming of age horror story based in a small town beleaguered by an old curse. Scratch the surface however and there’s plenty of food for thought amongst these pages which I’ll take a brief look at below.

Smith’s Hollow could be described as a loose retelling of Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Sleepy Hollow is more a ghost story and in Smith’s Hollow there is the Ghost Tree, which seems to be the epicentre of the trouble, there’s a monster that tears apart young girls and yet strangely enough leaves their heads intact (in complete reversal of the headless horseman’s modus operandi of leaving the bodies intact but taking the head with him) and there’s the reliance on the spooky ‘into the woods’ factor that plays into the creepiness of both stories.

As we begin the Ghost Tree we make the acquaintance of Lauren and Miranda. Both friends since childhood the two have always met up at the Ghost Tree and spent all their free time exploring and playing in the woods. Their relationship is changing however. Miranda is becoming more interested in boys, dressing up and being a bit more adult whilst Lauren is still trying to hold onto her younger self and isn’t quite yet ready to make the transition. Sadly, Lauren recognises that she and Miranda are growing apart and probably won’t remain friends for much longer. With Lauren’s transition through puberty comes a vision of two young girls being attacked in the woods – a vision that turns out to be a grim reality when the mutilated bodies are found arranged in one of the neighbour’s back gardens.

This is when we start to have our first glimpse of the strangeness that is Smith’s Hollow. At first glance Smith’s Hollow seems to be the perfect picture postcard American town. Prosperous, well kept houses and gardens, people going happily about their daily business and yet barely a day after the bloody remains of two young girls are discovered the place remains calm, there is no horrified buzz, people aren’t discussing the murders, parents aren’t going into ‘protection’ mode over their own daughters like you would expect, in fact, people are in fact forgetting that two hideous murders have just occurred. Lauren, however, isn’t forgetting the terrifying vision she had, or the fact that her father was also brutally murdered only a year ago and his death remains unsolved, and she is determined to take action.

So, I wouldn’t say that this is a particularly scary story although it does have it’s creepy moments and there is a certain amount of horror chucked in – although the ‘ick’ factor doesn’t feel too gross for some reason, I think the author’s no nonsense style of writing lessens the impact somehow. I liked that element of the story in fact but maybe if you’re really expecting a gorefest you might keep that in mind. But, super scary or horror filled or not this is a story that did grip me. I fairly dashed through this in a couple of days and I can definitely say that it held me firmly in its grip.

What works particularly well here is the setting and the whole backstory of Smith’s Hollow. The whole town seems to be suffering from some sort of mass amnesia. I won’t go into the reason why but let you discover the history of the place for yourself when you pick this one up – it’s an element of the story that I thought was really well done and I don’t want to spoil the whole story within a story surprise.

We have a number of characters who share time telling their story. Not all of these characters are likable of course but I didn’t have any problem relating to a couple of them. I liked Lauren, to be honest I liked Miranda – I think I felt kind of sorry for her, she was so desperate to lose her innocence and she radiated a sort of ‘damaged’ aura that made me want to give her a hug. I’m not going to elaborate on all the characters but the different aspects help to build a story in themselves. There are plenty of misunderstandings running amok. People getting the wrong end of the stick or reacting to things through distorted perceptions of reality.

And now I get to the whole train of crazy thought that was swirling about in my head whilst reading this – and I don’t think I’ve totally unravelled some of these thought trains even now. Like I said, at face value this is a horror story retelling of a classic ghost story. Dig deeper and there are a few underlying themes here. Let’s look at the racism that takes place. One particular vile character who is so racist she actually makes you feel ill reading her thoughts. She’s just shockingly full of nasty and stirs up a whole hornet’s nest of trouble. Her actions incite mob hysteria and potential violence from a bunch of people who feel like they’re being led by the nose by a raging xenophobe. There’s the whole hive mind, herd mentality ‘thing’ taking place not to mention the aspect that plainly comes across of people being happier to live in ignorance, even slaughtering the odd (yearly) sacrificial lamb to maintain their lifestyle, rather than face the reality of what is actually happening.

However, if that all seems a bit heavy – take what I’m saying with a pinch of salt, really this is a coming of age horror story that is well told, shocking in parts and really quite all consuming

In terms of criticisms. Well, nothing that spoiled the read for me but I would just mention briefly. The ending, which I admit really ramps up the tension, becomes a little messy – there seems to be a lot going on and there was a feeling of jumbled hysteria – but I think that was perhaps intentional in order to reflect the feel of the place and its inhabitants. What I did miss a little was more emotional depth, particularly from Lauren. She took things very much in her stride which I liked – but at the same time, given her age, I think I expected a little more reaction at certain points. There is also a very male predatory vibe that comes across here, I mention that just so that you’re aware, personally it felt like a strange reflection of fairytales and other stories where women can be quite often preyed upon but on the reverse side Lauren counters that by being so ‘stand up for herself’ and realistic.

Overall I thought this was a very good read that I really didn’t want to put down.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 of 5 stars

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