Title: The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel
Author: Alyssa Palombo
Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Gothic, Legends
My Rating: 3/5
In the years following the American Revolution, Katrina Van Tassel is the only daughter of a wealthy landowner in the town of Sleepy Hollow, an area plagued by the legend of the Headless Horseman. Katrina is of an age to marry and is expected to make a good match, preferably to her ex-childhood friend, Brom Bones. However, when the new schoolteacher arrives, Katrina finds herself falling in love with him, despite the fact that Ichabod Crane has little money and no land of his own. They begin a secret romance set against the backdrop of the woods where the ghost of the Headless Horseman is said to roam.
Katrina and Ichabod must find a way to be together, even as Brom pursues his courtship and Sleepy Hollow’s fear of the Headless Horseman grows.
Since moving back to the Hudson Valley last month, I’ve been intending to read more about the history and folklore of the area, as well as exploring some local landmarks. This book popped up when I was book shopping online and I knew I had to have it. The story has a liberal sprinkling of feminism, gothic themes, romance, history, and fantasy.
I liked the point of view of Katrina in this retelling of a popular legend, although her privileged naivete did get to be too much for me at times. An essential part of Katrina’s character is believing that nothing bad will ever really happen to her, a product of her upbringing during which she was denied nothing. It’s believable, but can be a little irritating. Nonetheless, Katrina is determined, intelligent, and rebellious. Her closest friend is Charlotte, another strong woman who is rumored to be a witch. Charlotte, in my opinion, is the real hero of the story, bearing the brunt of the town’s scorn while trying to find her place, and maybe some happiness, in the world.
It’s my understanding that this book was marketed as a historical fiction–which it is– but it would be far more accurate to call this a romance novel. The first half was solid romance, with a few other elements (fear of the Horseman, historical references) sprinkled in. The second half was more fantasy/gothic. While I did enjoy the romance aspect, it was a little jarring to me that there was such a distinct split in the structure of the story. I would have liked the romance thread to continue as an under-layer through the entire story with a lot more of the fantasy and gothic elements throughout. I came to be thrilled and creeped out and I ended up a little disappointed by the lack of ghostly things.
A superficial thing that caught my eye was the fact that nearly all the meals the characters have (except a few notable suppers) consist of bread and cheese. While this could have been irritating, it mostly made me laugh. Surely there were a few other options back then?
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. I liked the blending of the different genres and the fact that it was a fresh retelling of a local legend. It kept my attention throughout and I’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in historic romance or Hudson Valley tales. If you’re looking for a goosebumps-inducing ghost story or a story about magic and witchcraft, you may end up being disappointed, as these elements were present, but not strongly represented.
Honestly, my biggest complaint about this book is that the cover says “Love is a thing even death won’t erase.” I knew Ichabod was going to disappear at some point, but they gave away his death before I even started the book. I was pretty miffed about that.