The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel is an enthralling read for any historical fiction fan—at any time of the year—although this spooky, haunting tale is perfect reading for late fall evenings just as the weather turns cool and crisp. Readers will find themselves reaching for a hot apple cider and a warm blanket as they fall under the spell of an All Hallows Eve from centuries past.
Perhaps the best thing about the novel is the way Palombo captures the gothic tone of a post-revolutionary war America along the banks of the Hudson River, for Sleepy Hollow is also a character just as important as Katrina and Ichabod.
The rich—feminist—voice of Katrina Van Tassel breathes new life into an era when America was a young nation of immigrants coming together to build a new world from the roots of their European traditions and legends.
The heartbreaking love story of Ichabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassel brings Romeo and Juliet to mind. Doomed from the start, these two fight for their love even when the odds are stacked against them as Brom Van Brunt relentlessly pursues the object of his desire. He is her father’s ideal suitor for his daughter’s hand, while poor Ichabod is not. Yet, Brom sees Katrina as a prize he will possess at any cost. Somewhat predictable, their story unfolds almost like a train-wreck. You just can’t look away, even when you know what’s going to happen.
One can only respect the sheer amount of research and hard work that went into the making of this book. I applaud the author for her attention to detail, not only to the original story, but to the era in which Katrina’s story takes place.
Unfortunately for this lovely book, the title is wildly misleading. The reference to Katrina’s ‘spellbook’ is nothing more than a notebook she keeps of stories and details concerning Ichabod’s dsappearance. However, Charlotte Jansen, Katrina’s best friend and confidant, holds the key to the magic of Sleepy Hollow. With her herbs, potions, tarot cards and visions, she guides Katrina along a journey to find the truth. As a dynamic character all on her own, it leaves one to wonder what The Spellbook of Charlotte Jansen might have been.
The gripping, lyrical tone of the novel pulls readers in with the arrival of the handsome Ichabod Crane and as their love story unfolds, the pages fly. Somewhere around the middle, the story stalls as Katrina falls into a maddening pit of indecision that doesn’t pick up again until the final chapters. And those chapters are a reward for the faithful reader as Katrina finally learns the truth and figures out how to pick up the pieces of her life again.
The legend of the Headless Horseman plays a pivotal role in the story—as a metaphor and, ultimately, as a self-fulfilling prophecy for the tale’s three main characters. While new readers might anticipate a genuine ghost story with supernatural elements, one must remember this is a real-world retelling of a legend. Katrina’s story is as it should be—an in-depth look at how myths are rooted in truth, and how those legends can shape the lives of a people.
Historical fiction fans of all ages will enjoy this enchanting tale of love and loss amid the swirling fog and dark legends of the real Sleepy Hollow.