Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow - Alyssa Palombo

Summary: 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. In Alyssa Palombo's The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel nothing is as it seems, and love is a thing even death won't erase. (Summary and pic from

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: This was a great read for the Halloween season. What is more Halloweeny than the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman? Basically nothing. Reading this book led me down a little rabbit hole of things I needed to do in order to put it into context and really feel like I could review it. After finishing the book it became evident to me that I needed to read the original gangster, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The more I read of The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel the less I remembered what I thought I remembered from the OG (original gangster, cause I’m hip). But I didn’t stop there. After I finished both those books, I wanted to watch the Johnny Depp movie Sleepy Hollow. I saw that movie when it originally came out, but since that was decades ago I didn’t even remember that I had, and it wasn’t until my husband and I actually watched it that some faint stirrings of remembrance came back to me. I feel it is a fair comparison, though, because obviously the author is contemporary and probably would have seen this movie. And with all of the research she did, I can’t help but think that she did dabble in some pop culture references to the OG as well as her research into more non-fiction sources. So, with those two references to compare it to, I am here to present to you my review of The Spellbook.

First off, after reading The Spellbook I found Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to be a mere shell of this book. That’s not to say that Washington Irving wasn’t brilliant and didn’t create an awesome story, because he did. Indeed, Spellbook would not exist if it weren’t for the OG. However, I think Palombo did an excellent job of taking the fairly short story of the OG and creating a fairly long novel about it. She was able to look at each of the characters and expand them to where they felt more realistic and more authentic. Some of these characters and story arcs were not in the OG, but they did feel like they could be a part of it, like Irving had created an outline and this story was believable in that it took that outline and expanded on it. Would Irving have taken the story in the direction it took? I don’t know. Some of it I would think he wouldn’t, especially because he obviously didn't have a modern view of women, and that is putting it mildly. One of my favorite pieces of evidence of this is from the OG describing Katrina Van Tassel, "She was a blooming lass of fresh eighteen, plump as a partridge, ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father's peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectations. She was withal a little of a coquette, as might be perceived even in her dress...and withal a provokingly short petticoat, to display the prettiest foot and ankle in the country around." So, ya know, he wasn't a feminist, as you can see. Palombo's take all made for a compelling story with a rich history and a fun lore and presence all its own.

I am glad I watched Sleepy Hollow because I do think the author created a book that felt more like the movie than it did the OG. This is a compliment, by the way, because the movie’s set is just beautiful and it has some really cool elements in it that Palombo either expanded upon or took in a direction that I really liked. There were some major differences about it (for instance, Ichabod Crane remains a schoolteacher in The Spellbook, just like the OG, whereas in the movie he is a criminal scientist with a completely different back story. And Johnny Depp. He is not to be underestimated in the awesomeness of a character, either).  However, there was quite a bit about the movie that I could see in the book, and so I found that the book was an interesting mix of both the original story and the movie, and probably many other current pop culture mediums that I didn’t partake of for this particular review.

So how does this book measure on its own? Well, I think it was a really fun read, actually. There was quite a bit of romance in it, and so I would say it borders on the women’s lit category instead of just straight adult fiction or fantasy, but I feel like it lent itself well to that. I really liked the female characters, and I liked the fleshing out of the original story and the original characters as well; I think Palombo did a good job of staying true to what they were in the OG as well as making them something of her own as well. The writing was pretty good, and the story was certainly Halloween-esque and creepy. Sleepy Hollow remained a character in its own right, which is key to maintaining the integrity of the story, in my opinion. It transported me back to that time and place, and I even did some research into Washington Irving’s home and Sleepy Hollow. I’d love to go there someday!

If you love The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in any of its forms, I highly recommend this book. It’s a fun, fresh take on a classic story. The characters are good, and I think it’s written in a way that nods to the existing stories and lore as well as creates some of its own.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and several love scenes, some pretty descriptive, although not raunchy.


Jordan @ForeverLostinLiterature said...

Wonderful review! I love the Sleepy Hollow story so this is one I've been really curious about. I like that the author seems to have merely enhanced the original story, I'll definitely be picking this one up!

Unknown said...

I loved Sleepy Hollow, but more than that I LOVE folklore. I'll be checking out this book as soon as I'm done with what I'm reading. Speaking of, you might like it. It's called “Spirit of the Fox”, It's a contemporary suspense fiction filled with Japanese folklore and it's a very cool read! Thanks for this book recommendation!


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