Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
I’ve only started reading V.E. Schwab’s books since last year, when I read the Shades of Magic trilogy and loved it (for the most part). Since then, I’ve had most of her other books on my TBR, including this one. It unexpectedly came on hold at the library recently (originally I was probably at…#43 on the waitlist or something💀), and so I jumped at the chance to read it. What I got was a lush and atmospheric fairytale and an ultimately satisfying read!
Enjoy this week’s review!
Olivia Prior knows little about her past. All the clues she has are in her dead mother’s journal, which seems to chronicle her descent into indescribable madness. After graduating from the Merilance School for Girls, Olivia has nowhere to go, until she is invited by letter to Gallant, the Prior family home. She is met with hostility by her estranged, distant relatives, but soon discovers a dark secret: every place in the world has its shadow, but the shadow at Gallant may be larger and more unpredictable than any of the Prior family could have expected.
TW/CW: animal death, ableist language (outdated), blood, murder, loss of loved ones, violence
Strange, dark, and atmospheric, Gallant is a lovely gem of a modern, Gothic fairytale. It’s only my third or fourth (though I remember next to nothing about This Savage Song) foray into Schwab’s writing, but it’s enough to almost put her at auto-buy/checkout status for me!
Where Gallant excels is the atmosphere surrounding it. Even though the supernatural aspect of the book isn’t explicitly shown until the last third or so, there was a consistent air of darkness that hung around it. Every description, from Olivia’s experience at the Merilance School to the mystery of the Gallant house, was filled with dark and creeping prose. It called to mind so many pieces of media that I love—I know Coraline (and Neil Gaiman in general) and Guillermo del Toro have been common comparisons, but they absolutely fit the bill. Reminded me a lot of Courtney Crumrin too.
But what created this atmosphere was all V.E. Schwab’s writing. She has such a unique way with words, and her specialty with crafting immersive settings is much of what made Gallant a success for me. Everything from Olivia’s mother’s descent into madness to the supernatural occurrences converging into Olivia and her cousins was described in such an artful, deliberate way that I could almost feel the dark atmosphere like misty fog on my skin. It’s hard to think of a writing style as unique and layered as V.E. Schwab’s.
However, I still had some complaints. From reading the Shades of Magic trilogy, I felt like the plot itself was what dragged some of the books down. The same was true for Gallant; although the setting, characters, and general premise were set up and well-executed, the plot itself felt nebulous at best, clinging to the singular plot thread of Olivia moving from the girl’s school into her mysterious family home. Everything sped up in the last third of the book or so, and the elements of that section were some of the most interesting—I wanted more!
Additionally, I would’ve liked to know when the book takes place in the first place—there wasn’t a concrete establishment of that. From bits of the worldbuilding and some of the language (particularly the outdated language that surrounded Olivia’s mutism), it was implied that it could’ve been anywhere from the 1800s to the early 1900s. Not necessarily essential, but it made some aspects confusing. (Same problem I had with Encanto—no way I would’ve known that it was set in the 50’s if I hadn’t googled it.)
All in all, a dark and immersive fairytale from an author that I’d love to read more from. 4 stars!
Gallant is a standalone, but V.E. Schwab is also the author of several other book series, including the Shades of Magic trilogy, the Villains trilogy, and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!