[A quick note: There was soooo much hype around this book. And it’s easy to see why. VE Schwab is an amazing author. While I haven’t read a whole lot from her, I adored Addie LaRue. This was written as a middle grade book with unique storytelling because it was supplemented by journal entries and sketches. It was certainly a different sort of read. My copy came from Illumicrate and it‘s lovely!]
“𝐖𝐡𝐞𝐧 𝐩𝐞𝐨𝐩𝐥𝐞 𝐬𝐞𝐞 𝐭𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐬, 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐩 𝐥𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐨 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐬 𝐨𝐫 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐬 𝐨𝐫 𝐚𝐧𝐲𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐞𝐥𝐬𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐬𝐚𝐲. 𝐀𝐧𝐝 𝐢𝐭 𝐝𝐨𝐞𝐬𝐧'𝐭 𝐦𝐚𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐢𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐭𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐬 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐫𝐲 𝐨𝐫 𝐬𝐚𝐝, 𝐟𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐞𝐝 𝐨𝐫 𝐟𝐫𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐝. 𝐀𝐥𝐥 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐬𝐞𝐞 𝐢𝐬 𝐚 𝐠𝐢𝐫𝐥 𝐜𝐫𝐲𝐢𝐧𝐠.” —VE Schwab
Orphaned from a young age, the only thing Olivia Prior has of her mother is a journal that unravels to madness. When a letter arrives from a long lost relative inviting her home, she leaves Merilance School for girls and discovers Gallant, a place her mother warned her to stay away from, a place that isn’t at all what it seems. It is within the walls of Gallant that Olivia discovers family secrets and a door that leads to another world. A world threatening to break free and decimate all living things. A world desperate for her.
Within these pages you’ll find dark prose, a haunting family secret, a mansion full of hidden doors, and a girl who just wants to be heard. Gallant asks the question, what if there was a crumbling garden wall with a locked door? Where would it lead? What might be waiting on the other side? There’s ghouls, an ominous shadow lurking just beyond, and an unsettling feel that makes it the perfect rainy day read.
I wanted to love this book, I really did. I wanted to love it the way I loved Addie LaRue, even knowing it was written for a different audience. I’ve come to expect a WOW factor from Schwab, and unfortunately, this just didn’t hit the mark. That’s not to say it wasn’t…good? While it wasn’t my favorite read, I did enjoy the way it whisked me away for a few hours.
VE Schwab’s writing is always so beautiful. That goes without saying. Her prose in Gallant was no exception. While the story didn’t feel entirely original, the writing alone, along with a couple of new ideas, gave it a fresh feel and kept me turning pages. As far as plot and creativity, the backbone felt like a story I’d already read a few too many times. It possesses too many similarities to Uprooted, Among the Beasts and Briars, For the Wolf, and Lakesedge. From the shadowy sickness seeping into the real world, to the strength of blood that holds magical powers, to the frantic struggle playing out between the last protector standing, who is literally killing themselves to keep everyone safe, there were just too many parallels. I hate to say this, but it felt like a regurgitation—which I’m certain wasn’t intentional and merely coincidental—and surprise surprise, I said the same thing after reading Lakesedge too.
However, there were a few new ideas that I appreciated. The parallel of Gallant to its counterpart in the shadowy world, the beautiful ink sketch diary entries, and most of all, Olivia’s disability. So let’s look at those.
I loved the idea that a house occupied by so many generations of Priors—the designated protectors of the garden door—had an identical replica on the other side of the wall. And this replica was presided over by Death, living in a world of black and white. A world cast in shades of gray without color. It was so cool to see the contraption that illustrated this both in the library of Gallant, and on Gallant’s book cover.
Then there were the lovely ink sketches Olivia finds in her mother’s diary. Plus, the diary itself, which is confusing and mysterious. Piecing together the story of Olivia’s dead parents using what was left of them on ink on paper was so unique. I appreciated this different type of storytelling. Especially since each sketch had layers of meaning. I’d say one of the most exciting aspects of the story is the “ah-ha” moment when Olivia finally makes sense of the diary and her mother’s life at Gallant.
“𝐒𝐭𝐚𝐲 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐦𝐞. 𝐒𝐭𝐚𝐲 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐦𝐞. 𝐒𝐭𝐚𝐲 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐦𝐞. 𝐈 𝐰𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐰𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐬 𝐚 𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐬𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞𝐬 𝐢𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐲'𝐝 𝐛𝐞 𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐨𝐧𝐠 𝐞𝐧𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡 𝐭𝐨 𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐝 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞.” —VE Schwab
Then of course, Olivia Prior herself was completely unique. Born without the ability to speak, possibly due to vocal cord or larynx issue, Olivia can only sign her words. This creates a huge communication struggle for her because people can turn away to silence her. And silence her they do, over and over and over again. Olivia has dealt with so much cruelty because of something that was completely out of her control. She simply wants to be seen, treated normally, not judged for something she can’t help. Her character was fleshed out with a depth I appreciated. From the emotional wounds she suffered in her past, to scorn from her classmates, to a lack of belonging, she presented a solid presence on the pages. Plus, I loved that she was a gifted sketch artist.
The ending was ambiguous in a way I appreciated. It wasn’t exactly feel-good, but its darkness fit the tone and feel present throughout the entire story. This was written during the pandemic, and that was reflected in the pages. It wasn’t something I expected a HEA from, just from the overall flavor, so I wasn’t disappointed. VE Schwab does a good job setting her readers up with that expectation. I also found the ending to be the most exciting part of the story. We don’t really understand who the villain is until after the 50% mark. But once we do, everything afterward happens pretty quickly. Especially once we reach the 75% mark. I flipped pages much faster and really enjoyed how each scene played out.
From each story we read, we take away some things more than others. I think what will stick with me is Olivia’s character and her disability. This will remain in my memory long after I forget what the story was actually about. I really appreciated her and it was simply refreshing to have a MC with a disability. As far as children/YA goes, I think this will be well accepted. As I said, it wasn’t my favorite read, but, perhaps that is simply because I’ve read too many stories like this and it’s left me jaded. I think most will really enjoy it, and it’s certainly something that can be enjoyed by adults as much as the age group it was intended for. 𝐌𝐘𝐑𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐍𝐆: 𝟑.𝟓/𝟓⭐️