The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Palombo
432 pages | Published October 2nd, 2018
Rating: 5/5 stars
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’ 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.
Firstly, thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Oh my, this freaking book!! I had previously read another title by the same author – The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, which was reviewed here – but it didn’t blow me away. It didn’t help that it was one of the first historical fiction novels I ever read, but the story itself didn’t really stick with me.
This new release, however, has quickly become one of my favorite books I have ever read. And it’s different from anything I’ve ever read as well, which makes it that much more special. I devoured it in just a few hours over the course of two days.
I learned so much from this reading experience, not only about the original story but also about history – both from what the book provided and from my own research. And I grew incredibly fond of the characters – only to have my heart shattered, but I am sure I will forgive the author someday…
I’m very sorry if you are out of time, but this will be one long ass review so, buckle up and let’s get to it!!
PLOT & WRITING
This is a feminist retelling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, which I had absolutely null knowledge about up until now. I think it is a good thing that I had never read the original story or watched any of the modern adaptations, as that would certainly have spoiled the book for me.
According to the author’s note, she considered the original story to be sexist – which is not surprising, considering it was published, and most likely written, in the early 1800’s. Being so, Palombo decided to write the story from a woman’s perspective instead, making Katrina the main character and narrator.
Although the plot is not of her own making, the author was able to make it hers by adding several of her own elements to the story. I very much enjoyed the magical realism that was interwoven with reality itself throughout the book. Well, at least I consider it magical realism… There are some characters with ‘superhuman’ abilities, as well as a few esoteric and occult practices, which are a great addition to the story and make it even more interesting.
Palombo’s writing is flowy and easy to read, even with the old English playing a huge role in the book. It was simply delightful, and the language kind of rubbed off on me… I’m pretty sure I’m going to be speaking rather old-fashionedly for a while after this read!
Oh, and of course this has its spooky parts, considering the legends it features. There are several eerie moments throughout the novel, although I would consider this to be a romance above all, only sprinkled with creepy, supernatural elements. If you’re looking for a lighter Halloween read, this is the book for you – it features All Hallows’ Eve parties and everything!!
This is a slightly large book, so the author had room to develop her characters – which she did, for the most part. I feel as though the main characters were very well-developed, but the side characters not so much. This happens in a lot of books, of course, since the side characters barely make an appearance most of the time. If I’m honest, it doesn’t really bother me, I am not that picky when it comes to character development unless it is severely lacking, which is not the case whatsoever.
We meet a lovely cast of characters – with a couple of exceptions, of course – who see their happiness crumble before them, while they are powerless and not able to do much about it. It is a truly heartbreaking story, and it made me tear up. Considering I hadn’t cried while reading up until September, that fact alone should tell you something 😅
I’ve noticed that Palombo usually writes female main characters that are ahead of their time, and that is something I’ve come to appreciate over time. Since she writes historical fiction, however, it is important to be realistic and not write extremely liberal characters who always get their way – it wouldn’t be realistic, and the author successfully portrays that.
I developed a deep connection with Katrina. Although she ‘lived’ in a very different time, I could really relate to her on a lot of things and was able to feel her every emotion – which is probably why I cried 😄 This girl just has the most heartbreaking fate, I swear!!
Her friendship with Charlotte, the town’s midwife and herbalist’s daughter, is heartwarming. They are childhood friends and have always been inseparable, their friendship helped by that of their mothers. I would love to be able to hang out with these two, they are so much fun and full of love.
And can we talk about our love interest?? Oh my goodness, what a catch! I would marry this Ichabod guy any day, really. He’s well-read, a straight-up gentleman, and he can play and sing?? Hell yeah! He is too nice for his own good, though, too honorable a man. And everyone knows good people end up getting screwed over, unfortunately.
THE HISTORICAL ASPECT
There are several interesting aspects of this book that stand out, historically speaking. Firstly, the role of women, how they should behave, and how they are regarded. Obviously, marriages were not based on love, and a woman should always keep her virginity until the night of her wedding. She should not have her own opinions, and definitely should not disagree with her husband’s opinions and/or views. Thankfully, our main character, a well-read and educated young woman, tries her hardest to stand up for herself – though, sometimes, the men overpower her either way.
Secondly, it is shown to us how tarot reading and herbology, for example, were often mistaken for witchcraft. The women – for it was mostly women – who worked with these things were often feared, no matter how helpful their herbs and spells were. Imagine what they’d think of women who have visions!!
Lastly, the historical context of the story itself, which involves politics and such. It is set in New York not long after the American Revolution War. It is very interesting how the author portrays the different characters in New York, who are mostly of Dutch descent. They are all bilingual and keep talking about how they are “a new nation”, and mentions of the War are prominent throughout the book, starting with the legend of the Headless Horseman.
Now, I am not one to gravitate towards historical fiction novels, but I must admit that they are growing on me. I just love reading about the stuff I’ve studied – and when I don’t know much about the historical period, I will go ahead and do my research, which enriches my reading experience and, of course, extends my knowledge. What’s not to love, right? Watch me spend all of my money on historical books from now on…
Our lovely main character, Katrina, is rather fond of books, just like us. She loves to go outside and read in the peace of her garden, usually in the company of her cute and loyal dog, Nox (which is Latin for ‘night’, if you didn’t know).
I also found her remedy for a broken heart to be quite entertaining:
You have read too many books, a vicious little voice hissed inside my mind as I hurried back up the stairs, tears stinging my eyes. You are a romantic fool, Katrina Van Tassel. Back in my room, I vigorously brushed the tears away and opened Macbeth again. A tale of tragedy and blood sounded like exactly what I needed.
Overall, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel is an unputdownable, heartbreaking read filled with folklore and lovely characters. The historical setting makes it super interesting and sets the perfect mood for this time of year. I wish I could read about this love story forever, and that my heart hadn’t been shattered by the author.
I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel and if you’d like, check out my other book reviews!
Have you read any of Palombo’s books? Are you into historical fiction? Let me know in the comments!
Thank you so much for reading,
I’ll see you in my next post ♡