Horseman by Christina Henry is a queer dark fantasy re-imagining of the classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. All the people of Sleepy Hollow know of the Horseman, yet no one truly believes in his existence. Not even Ben’s badass grandfather, Brom Bones, who was there when the rumoured Horseman chased one of their own out of town. Thirty-some-odd years later, the town has quieted down. Ben, now fourteen, loves to play in the woods with their chum. But then one day they stumble upon the headless body of a child in the woods, a discovery that makes Ben—and the townsfolx—question all that they knew of their small settlement.
Christina Henry’s dark fantasy re-imaginings of classic fairy tales are some of my favourites. In fact, her novel Alice is the only rendition of Alice in Wonderland that I actually enjoyed wholeheartedly. It is the epitome of dark and fucked-up. Going into Horseman, I expected similar things, and ended up receiving stuff I didn’t see coming at all, some in good ways and a couple that turned out blasé.
The storytelling is wonderfully atmospheric and chilling. She doesn’t shy away from the descriptives of the dead and decaying, and it’s presented in a way that makes it feel as if the shadows and the treacherous fog is sneaking its away around you completely. Closing the book made me a little bit disoriented because I needed to mentally travel back to my reality and that is never nearly as fun or exhilarating.
Aside from a great sense of ominousness looming over the town and folx of Sleepy Hollow, I also thoroughly relished the representation of a trans character. I adored that they didn’t struggle with who they were as a person—they were quite profoundly accepting of their gender identity and it was awesome—but rather the close-minded people of their town. No matter how much people tried to “change their mind” and tell them to “grow up,” essentially, they remained true to themselves and that’s a strong and necessary message that should never stop being shouted from the pages of books.
Beyond the tasteful traits of atmospheric settings and grisly, gruesome killings, the rest of the story felt a bit uneventful. I kept waiting for a big twist to drop that would blow my mind or pull me into the pages with that last drop of vigour that I kept craving, yet it never arrived. It brought me into its intrigue one small step at a time, but it wasn’t able to truly capture my attention in the way that I wanted it to. It was easy to get distracted, and that is not a response I like having to fantasy novels, particularly dark fantasy.
Now, I can’t relate this to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow original as I have not read it (yet? Still undecided), but the way the Horseman is brought to life was fantastic in my opinion. Having that extra oomph of an unexpected plot-twist would’ve made it beyond spectacular, but you can’t win them all, can you? If I were to base my opinion on it based entirely on connections via other Sleepy Hollow media that I’ve consumed, I would say that Horseman is definitely a loosely based interpretation, so folx should go into it with an open-mind (and a sturdy stomach).
Horseman is a great dark fantasy story and re-imagining of a literary classic that I would recommend to fans of the original, or folx that are looking for a queer twist on one. It is more of a slow, methodical burn than a fluid rush of intrigue and tension, so it may be hit or miss for some readers, depending on your individual reading preferences. My personal response to it was INDIFFERENCE overall. While it didn’t turn out to be quite my cup o’ chai, I’m sure it shall be for other bibliophiles out there.
Publication Date: September 2021
Publisher: Berkley (978-0593199787)
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Page Count: 320
Content Warnings: Graphic descriptions of dead bodies, gore, and decay of death. Transphobia. Death of loved ones. Depiction of arson (moderately detailed). Mild cursing. Brief scene of attempted sexual assault of a child.
Availability: In-print; eBook, Audiobook, and Paperback editions available.