Happy Hallowe’en! And what better book to present than Alyssa Palombo’s retelling of the classic legend of Sleepy Hollow in The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel.

Palombo’s previous historicals,The Violinist of Venice and The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, were both hailed for their accurate period details woven into an intriguing story. Spellbook continues in that vein, and as a New Yorker who grew up on Washington Irving’s story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, this retelling of that story combines aspects of a sweeping romance with a gothic thriller that are delight to read.

Katrina Van Tassel is heiress to her father’s extensive farms along the Hudson River Valley, and a suitable husband must soon be found for the attractive girl. When the new schoolmaster arrives and begins music lessons, Ichabod Crane and Katrina are immediately drawn to each other.

So begins their love story, one that is threatened by the courting of Brom Van Brunt, son of a neighboring farmer. Katrina’s father is convinced the melding of the two farms would be a boon and is in favor of this union, which Katrina is definitely not.

Growing up with her best friend, Charlotte, daughter of the local midwife and herbalist, Charlotte was called a witch by Brom when the three were young, and Katrina has never forgiven him. Indeed, the friendship between Charlotte Jansen, supposed ‘white witch’ and the heiress Katrina are at the heart of the novel.

As Ichabod and Katrina begin their love affair, the ghost of the local legends surround them, until Ichabod suddenly disappears on All Hallows Eve. While locals whisper the Headless Horseman has claimed Ichabod, Katrina fears a more human element. Than how to explain the visions she sees when staring into a candle’s flame?

At the heart of the bool is the story told through the eyes of Katrina. Readers see the time period spool out before them with its customs and mores, as well as the lovers secret life.

Set against the backdrop of the country as its first President is searching for a replacement, the novel gives a feminist version of the haunting legend and its consequences as they revolve around Katrina. An intriguing and new way to look at an old legend.

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