28 September 2021

#Review - Horseman by Christina Henry

Christina Henry
Titan Books, 28 September 2021
Available as: HB, 352pp, audio, e
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(HB): 9781789095975

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of Horseman to consider for review.

Horseman revisits events in Sleepy Hollow, a remote township in the woods of the US Eastern seaboard, some years after Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". You don't have to know the details of the earlier book, as Henry gives plenty of context, but I think you will get a richer experience if you do.

The story opens as Sander and his friend Ben Van Brunt visit the deep woods to play "Sleepy Hollow Boys", acting out the famous story. Their game is though set aside when a group of villagers gallop past, having made a grim discovery - which turns out to be only the first in a series. Someone - or something - in the woods seems to have woken, and to be killing in a particularly horrible way. Gradually, Ben realises that what's going on may be connected to the Van Brunt family, and tension rises between grandfather Brom and grandmother Katrina.

Horseman is one of those stories where attempts are being made to hide or bury what happened in the past, but if danger is to be seen off, it's necessary to face the darkness, however painful that may be. Easy to say, harder to do when one has to navigate a web of taciturn family members, suspicious villagers and enigmatic legends. It all means Ben has to grow up very quickly - going in a few days from being a carefree child to one who will never, never, play "Sleepy Hollow Boys" again.

Alongside that narrative of growing-up, Horseman is also a story of difference and acceptance. Sleepy Hollow is a very backwards community (indeed, Henry hints, perhaps almost unnaturally backward, unperturbed by any currents of change in the wider world. What might cause that?) It is also an inward-looking community, where conformism is important and everyone knows everyone else's business. But facing up to long buried secrets - and, as becomes clear, lies - is hard in such a place, and may expose other things too. The privileged and slightly eccentric Van Brunts may to a degree be able to face that down, but they also seem to be at the centre of a series of gruesome events - and they have enemies.

And what of the Horseman himself? Brom denies he exists at all. He may have his own reasons for that, but Ben seems to hear the hoofbeats - or is it just his heart? - and for the first time, begins to doubt Brom's word and past deeds. 

I really enjoyed Horseman. Apart from its sympathetic portrayal of a teenager who is, most definitely a bit of an outsider, despite being a member of a wealthy family, it gives a vivid picture of life at a particular time and place complete with a range of characters, from the stupid to the villainous. At the heart of things is that central triangle of Brom, Katrina and Ben whose love for one another shines through, even when they bitterly disagree as, here, they do.

Adding to Henry's takes on familiar and less familiar motifs and stories, Horseman is entertaining, often surprising and deserves to be read at a gallop, preferably into the early hours.

For more information about Horseman, see the publisher's website here.

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