“Villainy wears many masks, none so dangerous as the mask of virtue” – Washington Irving
Jude S. Walko’s The Unhallowed Horseman scrupulously reimagines the infamous tale of a silent secluded valley, a place laced with superstition and scandal, called Sleepy Hollow.
Vincent, a troubled teenage boy with mental disorders, must come to terms with his demons and, perhaps, the town’s iconic Horseman himself to save those he loves most.
Vincent takes pills by the handful and sometimes dooms himself as the cynically unreliable lead. Walko weaves a classic horror trope of reality versus imagination when Vincent sees the legendary headless horseman. I thought this detail was a clever infusion of modern mental health conventions that still alluded to Brom pranking Ichabod Crane in Irving’s story.
The unease layered with the question of belief was, in my opinion, the best part of this book.
However, I always have issues with authors outright saying this character has “bipolar disorder” or whatever else. I prefer characters that depict their mental illnesses without the clear cut diagnosis from the writer. This allows readers who may experience manic episodes or hallucinations to relate to characters like Vincent better and without implying this instance is the “overview” of said disorder.
Still, I appreciated Walko tackling mental health in a ghost story; because how often should those two coincide anyway?
Ghosts and mental health is what the hellish steed is to the horseman — a reciprocal relationship of sorts.
I did find the writing in The Unhallowed Horseman a bit heavy-handed. Several times throughout, sentences carried on for a paragraph’s length. This was partly due to too much character description when the story needed precision and punch to keep the reader going. When the stakes finally rose for Vincent, it felt a bit abrupt.
Overall, I recommend The Unhallowed Horseman to fans of classic horror films, especially stars like Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, and of course for those who enjoy Sleepy Hollow.
The Unhallowed Horseman is an atmospheric, captivating (and decapitating) story that will descend readers into a rabbit hole of painful realism and all the accompanying terror.