In Gallant by V.E. Schwab, Olivia Prior has always longed for the home she finds in Gallant but she is unprepared for its dark history.
From the Blurb:
Everything casts a shadow. Even the world we live in. And as with every shadow, there is a place where it must touch. A seam, where the shadow meets its source.
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?
When Olivia arrives at Gallant, she is determined to learn its secrets and make it her home, despite everyone’s objections.
Olivia was a singular character for me. Being mute in a world with little care towards her disability has led her to be constantly frustrated but very resilient, and she has had to find creative ways to communicate which makes the book a very interesting read. Despite each new revelation pushing her away from Gallant and its past, she perseveres until she’s wormed her way into the residents’ hearts. She is very attentive to body language and does her best to adapt to the characters around her in order to express herself: with few she signs, with most she writes out her thoughts while with one she sketches. This means the book has little dialogue, but Schwab takes care never to make Olivia’s inner monologue boring as she narrates her tale.
Schwab’s writing is, undoubtedly, what made this novel shine. In Gallant, she creates a very atmospheric setting that pulls readers in. Being told through Olivia’s point of view only adds to the uniqueness of the setting, as she focuses on small details that make the world come alive.
Gallant creates a very interesting world with Death at the center of it. Growing up, Olivia could see ghouls no one else could, and once at Gallant she discovers why. Meanwhile, Death is personified into a terrifying figure who can grant a shadow of a life by using bone shards, and he’s coming for Olivia.
Plot wise, Gallant was interesting, though I wasn’t a fan of the pacing. Much of the book is taken up by Olivia exploring the grounds, discovering her family’s past and trying to piece together Gallant’s mystery, but this made the climax feel rushed as there wasn’t enough time between Olivia’s biggest discovery about the shadow world, and what that sets in motion. Another aspect that felt pushed to the side was Olivia’s relationship with Matthew, which could have been developed earlier in the book.
V.E. Schwab weaves a tale of longing to belong to a home, a family, that resonates deeply with her readers. I enjoyed the gothic atmosphere Schwab conjures up, was intrigued by her world and came out loving the way Olivia’s story unfolds. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of The Haunting of Bly Manour.