Sunday, December 8, 2013

Severed: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Dax Varley

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 4, 2013

Katrina’s still haunted by her encounter with the Headless Horseman - the night he beckoned to her. Now he has risen again, slashing heads and terrorizing the quiet countryside. Her only joy during this dismal darkness comes when Ichabod Crane, a gorgeous young man from Connecticut, moves to Sleepy Hollow and their attraction turns to romance. When the Horseman marks Ichabod as his next victim, Katrina, despite dangerous efforts to save him, sees no other choice than for them to flee. But the Horseman awaits. Now it’s up to her to sever the horror and alter the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

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Ichabod Crane by William J. Wilgus
For those who haven't read it, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow isn't quite as sexy as popular culture suggests. Katrina is a shameless flirt, Brom is a street smart and mischievous man's man, the Horseman is a local legend in a community with a firmly established belief in the supernatural, and Ichabod is a haplessly awkward, self-serving and superstitious wimp. The reader is not offered a clear explanation of events and much of the story is in fact left open ended. 

So what does this have to do with Dax Varley's Severed? Not a lot. The underlying structure of the story bares a certain resemblance, but the characterization and themes of this young adult retelling have a lot more in common with the television series starring Tom Mison and Tim Burton's 1999 big screen adaptation than Washington Irving's 1820 classic and is something this purist found rather disappointing.

Replicating the spirit of the original was obviously not Varley's intent, but conforming to the values and expectations of eighteenth century society proved yet another challenge for this author. Katrina and Elise have far too much freedom and hold very modern ideals for individuals born in the late 1700s. Ichabod's principles are also rather avant-garde and I think that both aspects undermined the integrity of the story as it meant to be a period piece.

I will admit Varley's attempt at misdirection in the final chapter of the story is quite creative, but by comparison, I have to say I found Irving's twist much more provocative. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow concludes on an ambiguous note, leaving the reader to come to their own conclusion and personally I found the inherent uncertainty of that far more enticing than the carefully crafted explanation offered readers in Varley's finale. 

The language and flow of Severed are not bad for a young adult piece and I'm sure many will find its trendy motifs quite enjoyable, but for me, Severed missed the mark and was definitely not what I was looking for in a retelling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. 

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I rested my head onto my arm. “They’re going to hang me.” He reached in and brushed back my hair. “Not as long as I’m breathing."
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