V.E. Schwab’s newest addition to her growing bibliography, Gallant, gave me The Secret Garden vibes, if The Secret Garden was horror… and I am here for it.
Olivia Prior has never had a family. She was abandoned at Merilance School for Independent Girls when she was young, left with only her mother’s journal as a remnant of her past. The girls at Merilance don’t care to befriend her, and as she is mute, no one is able to communicate with her. Her sole company is the ghouls that only she can see, disfigured and gory whispers at the edge of her vision.
So, when a mysterious letter from an unknown uncle arrives for her at the school, summoning her to Gallant, Olivia instantly jumps at the opportunity to have a home and a family.
Yet, when she arrives, Olivia soon comes to realize that there is more to her family than she ever could have prepared for, and that some parts of her family’s history and of Gallant should remain in the shadows.
A haunting, slow-paced prose
Gallant moves slowly through the plot, but does so in a way that allows you to digest every word of each scene, Olivia’s thoughts, and her development as a character. Olivia Prior is without speech, but we are still treated to an incredible growth and maturity as the plot progresses.
The story of Gallant is simple: Olivia is summoned to Gallant, a large house where the Prior family line has spent generations living. When she arrives, she meets her cousin Matthew, who had no idea of her existence but appears adamant to have her removed from the home. The reasoning behind it is slowly unraveled as Olivia, through the clues offered by the house, the ghouls, and primarily the garden and the wall on the outside, discovers that there is an evil entity trying to escape the shadows and come into the light.
There is so much complexity and emotion packed into the pages of Gallant. Schwab’s clever use of language when it comes to descriptors of Olivia’s thoughts and of her observations really drops you into the story. The pacing is slow, as if you were creeping through the lines of the book, suspended in what will happen next.
It was equal parts calming and riveting and eerie, especially during the scenes where Olivia interacts with the ghosts and ghouls of the house.
This novel is very family-centric
A core theme of Gallant was definitely the theme of family. Olivia’s discovery of her family lineage in relation to the Priors was intriguing to watch unfold. The fact that her family members are uncovered to be the ghouls that haunt the edges of Olivia’s sight was also pretty terrifying.
Then, of course, there was the “curse” of the Prior family, where the descendants were held to Gallant in order to man the shadowed wall on the outskirts of the garden, which was now focused on Matthew and Olivia, the two remaining Priors left alive.
The kinship between Matthew and Olivia was such a great part of the story. Their relationship was wrought with tension and hostility from the moment Matthew understood who Olivia was. Olivia could not speak and Matthew was illiterate, so there was already a communication barrier. But Matthew’s intentions on protecting Olivia, combined with his refusal to bring Olivia fully into the fold of what being a Prior meant, made for an interesting dynamic between the two cousins.
There is also an element of ‘found family’ in Gallant with the caretakers of the house, Hannah and Edgar, who are not Priors but act like Matthew and Olivia’s parents throughout the text.
Olivia’s yearning for her mother in particular made for a critical aspect of the novel. Though her mother, Grace, is not a core character in the book, the essence of her was incredibly present throughout the entire story. Schwab weaved Grace’s past into Olivia’s present so effortlessly, and you felt touched by Grace’s character despite the fact that she was not in the book as a tangible character.
A cozy and haunting read, Gallant is a story with well-developed characters that will leave you breathless and feeling bittersweet by the end. It is perfect for readers that love family-centric plots, dark mysteries, and things lurking in the shadows.
Gallant by V.E. Schwab was released on March 1st, 2022.