This Gallant book review is a spoiler-free look at the way the shadows move across V.E. Schwab’s stunning Gothic fantasy.
I have a confession to make. I had never read V.E. Schwab/Victoria Schwab prior to picking up Gallant. And it’s not because I didn’t want to! Some of my friends are massive fans, and I even have a few of her books lining my shelves that I promised I’d get to some day.
Now, I’m kicking myself that “some day” wasn’t years ago. I knew there was a reason why she was popular, why some people—whose book opinions I trust above most others—count her as one of their favorite authors. But I’m a little mad they didn’t tell me she was this good.
Fortunately, Gallant was the perfect book for me to start with. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you describe a book as Gothic in any way, shape, or form, I’m gonna pick it up. And chances are, I’m also gonna love it.
And that’s exactly what happened here, though I was less prepared for how stunningly beautiful V.E. Schwab’s prose would be. Each and every sentence was carefully crafted by an artist’s hand. The way she describes colors and smells and tastes and feelings had me stepping into Olivia’s shoes as though they were made for my feet.
I’m going to tell you right now, this Gallant book review is not going to do Victoria’s prose justice. Suffice it to say, she never misses a single detail, and each one is there to elicit a reaction from the reader. Every moment we experience from Olivia’s point of view has a purpose and seemingly comes full circle by the end of the book.
We first meet Olivia Prior at the Merilance School for girls, where she has no friends in her fellow students and no allies in the matrons that run the institution. She is ostracized primarily for the fact that she was born mute, but instead of shrinking in on herself, she has learned to make the first move to ensure everyone knows she will not be an easy target.
Olivia is special in other ways, too. She was left at the school with her mother’s journal, which is seemingly filled with the ramblings of woman gone mad. More importantly, however, is the fact that Olivia can see ghouls—half-formed ghosts who haunt the school and shrink under her gaze.
One day, a letter shows up from an uncle she didn’t know existed, inviting her to come home to Gallant, the Prior family estate. This is the chance for her to start over, to be someone new, but when she arrives, no one knows who she is. Her uncle, she finds, had died a year ago.
Every chapter in Gallant is a soldier’s march toward solving the mystery of Olivia’s abilities, her mother’s fate, her father’s identity, and her family’s purpose. And though the answers seem impossible, she soon discovers that they’re all too real.
“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.”
This is what Olivia discovers upon crossing the border between Gallant and the open field beyond the wall. But when she steps over that threshold, she finds herself in another world, one in which Gallant is in disrepair and the master of the house commands a sinister presence.
I love the very premise of this book because I, like Victoria, have loved doors my whole life. Or, more specifically, I have loved the keys that have belonged to those doors.
As a child, I had a pink plastic toy skeleton key necklace, and I would pretend to open doorways into another universe. As I grew older, I lost that key, but I began collecting others—real antique skeleton keys that have been separated from their locks. I wanted to join them together again. To see what was beyond. That felt like real magic to me.
Gallant is a part of that magic. Those of us who fell in love with stories like The Secret Garden will find something cut from the same cloth, but perhaps darker, cast in shadow.
The magic in this book is subtle—real and omnipresent, but it takes a backseat to the human story. We have Olivia’s desire to belong, her cousin Matthew’s desire to protect, and Hannah and Edgar’s desire to comfort them both, even when they’re at odds.
The mystical elements of this book were the least surprising part for me. I have always loved light fantasy and magical realism—stories that made me believe the supernatural could exist in our world, if only I looked hard enough. That’s what Gallant did.
But what took me by surprise, and the part I wanted to highlight most in this Gallant book review, was the familial element of the book. Being an orphan and having no friends means Olivia has been starving to know what it’s like to have a family. When that letter comes, she can think of no greater future than a place where she feels like she belongs.
Of course, reality does not quite match up to her dreams, at least at first. But as the story moves along, Olivia grows to love and trust Hannah and Edgar. Even she and Matthew find common ground. And Gallant feels like home because it is her home.
I love this aspect of the story because while Matthew is related to her by blood and Hannah and Edgar have been at Gallant for years—they even knew her mother—it feels like a found family situation, and that’s one of my favorite tropes in a all of fiction. The slow coming together of this little ragtag group of humans facing an insurmountable task against all odds is what kept me turning the pages.
Truly, if you take anything away from this Gallant book review, let it be this: V.E. Schwab is a master wordsmith who can weave shadows into triumph and heartbreak into hope. Even Death is no match for the poetry she places on the page.
‘Gallant’ hit store shelves on March 1, 2022
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