Today is the UK release day for Victoria Schwab’s latest YA novel, Gallant, and I’m excited to be sharing my review of this haunting, lyrical novel.
Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home—to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home, it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.
Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.
Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?
Thanks to the UK publisher, Titan, for sending me an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Gallant is a place that creeps into the hearts and souls of the Prior family and takes up space in their bones. Just like its namesake, this book will creep into your mind and take up residence, even after you’ve finished reading.
I’m still thinking about this book several weeks after reading it, particularly because of it’s haunting, evocative writing style. One of the standout aspects of Victoria Schwab novels is always her writing style and Gallant is no different.
The narrative is atmospheric, dark, and melodic, creating a tension that unfurls out of the story and into the set of our shoulders as we read. This sinister feeling is pervasive, beginning when Olivia arrives at Gallant and never dissipating until we reach the story’s final conclusion.
The narrative style of this novel doesn’t perhaps pack the same punch and power of A Darker Shade of Magic or Vicious, but it’s not meant to.
This is more of a character-driven story about the ambience of an old house and the history of the Prior family and for that we need evocative prose, which is exactly what Schwab gives us.
The plot is linear and relatively simple and the pacing is on the slow side, but this feels purposeful; Olivia is gradually uncovering the dark secrets of the house and so are we.
As the mysteries of why she was summoned to Gallant, what happened to her family, and what lurks beyond the wall are gradually revealed, Victoria Schwab draws all the threads of the story to a startling, dramatic conclusion.
Olivia herself is an inherently curious, contemplative character. Schwab likes to create protagonists that are ostracised or don’t fit in with society, then explore their search for belonging and their desire for a place that feels like home, and we can see this in the way Olivia longs for a family.
The only belonging she has of her mother’s is her old green journal, and she spends hours pouring over the writing and images there, trying to better understand the mother she never really knew. It’s unsurprising, then that when the invitation to join her family at Gallant arrives, she jumps at the opportunity.
Fans of the found family trope will enjoy the way the other central characters, Matthew, Hannah, and Edgar, whose presence becomes a warm comfort to Olivia. She’s spent many years searching for love and affection at Merilance School and never really finding it, but at last she feels the missing piece of a jigsaw slow into place.
Olivia communicates non-verbally throughout the novel, meaning she doesn’t speak orally but uses sign language, drawings, writing, and gestures to communicate. Inside the Master’s house, she discovers that she needs only to think of something and the ghouls there respond to her.
I can’t speak to this particular representation, but it feels sensitive and respectful, in particular because the author doesn’t try to ‘fix’ Olivia by having her regain her speech at the end of the novel. Instead, Schwab demonstrates that Olivia’s style of communication is part of who she is and doesn’t need to be changed.
The novel explores themes of home, family, grief, and loss in detail, focusing especially on the idea that home is sometimes as much about the people as it is about the place. The illustrations in the book beautifully compliment the descriptions of Olivia’s mother’s journal and they take on even more significance when we find out a key piece of information later on in the story.
Overall, Gallant is a book that crosses genres as part-thriller, part-fantasy, part murder mystery. I would have liked more from the magic/supernatural aspects of the world building and felt there were a few missed opportunities for twists or further subplots, but on the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.
The narrative style is engrossing and the mystery of the house and the Prior family will keep you hooked to the very end.
Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”
There are content warnings for bullying, parental abandonment, suicide (off-page) and discussions of suicide, discussions of eating disorders and weight loss, death, death of a parent, death of a sibling, emotional manipulation, and violence in this book.
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