V.E. Schwab has done it again. With her latest release, Gallant, she brings us a world of shadows, magic, mysterious journals, and haunted houses, all described through the eyes of a girl who longs for a family and a place to call home. Gallant is as enchanting as it is sinister—utterly beguiling from start to finish.
Orphaned Olivia Prior has spent her whole life at Merilance School for Girls where the other students constantly bully her. Though she never lets them get to her, she longs to be accepted and loved. Olivia is also an outcast because she is mute—and because she sees ghouls everywhere, although she never speaks of this. All she knows of her past comes from a journal that once belonged to her mother—its fragmented contents equally comforting as they are perplexing.
One day, a letter from her uncle arrives inviting Olivia to Gallant, the Prior family estate. Thrilled to know that she has a family, she leaves Merilance, ignoring her mother’s warning, which is burned into her memory: you will be safe as long as you stay away from Gallant.
Tales of haunted mansions and troubled families are nothing new, but there is nothing predictable about what happens at Gallant. The house is too large for the small number of living inhabitants; ghouls, on the other hand, lurk in every corner. Olivia is not afraid of ghouls, but I certainly am, and when Olivia’s curious nature led her to explore the mansion in the dead of night, even the sound of the pages as I flipped them made me shiver. Gallant is also filled with details that help Olivia understand her past, like the family portraits and her mother’s dresses still hanging in her closet. Even the ghouls, as eerie as they are, have something whimsical about them, especially in their curiosity and the care they show toward Olivia. The most fascinating and perplexing thing about Gallant, however, is the crumbling wall in the garden. A large iron door hides in the middle of this wall, and Olivia knows something lies behind it—something more than the field which she glimpses through the keyhole. The wall creeps into Olivia’s heart and soul just as the book itself crept inside mine, haunting me even when I was forced to put it down.
Schwab is a master at creating atmosphere. The manor is crumbling, and yet it is alive on the page. From the shadows in every corner to the tapestried walls, the musty smells and the groaning of the old wood floors, I felt like I was running through the hallways of Gallant along with Olivia, discovering its secrets. The atmosphere becomes even more unique thanks to the illustrations by Manuel Šumberac accompanying the text. These gorgeous, otherworldly images complement the drawings in Olivia’s mother’s journal, immersing the reader even more deeply into her world. Schwab dedicates a whole section to these illustrations and entries found in Olivia’s mother’s journal, making the novel feel like an artifact found in Gallant that encourages readers to interpret and reinterpret these clues for themselves. Another remarkable feature of this novel is that even once answers are uncovered, the eerie aura of Gallant never fully dissipates. Something always lingers in the shadows, though the ghouls take on a different significance by the end.
Beyond the fact that I was desperate to uncover Gallant’s secrets, I was rooting for Olivia from the first chapter and wanted nothing more than for her to obtain what she had longed for her whole life: a home. Schwab always creates endearing and relatable characters. In The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue—my absolute favourite Schwab novel—Addie’s need to leave her mark on the world really struck a chord within me. Likewise, Olivia’s longing for acceptance and her fear of being a burden to those she loves was incredibly compelling. Reading Schwab’s work makes me feel seen and understood, and that is truly special.
Olivia’s need to be accepted and her quest to uncover Gallant’s secrets are intricately intertwined. Although she finally learns that she has a family, her cousin Matthew— the only other remaining Prior— does not want her to stay and claims that his late father never sent Olivia a letter. Matthew’s hostility towards Olivia is heartbreaking, but she never gives up, and soon some form of understanding blooms between them. I wish Schwab had spent more time developing Olivia’s relationship with Matthew a little more, but Schwab makes up for it with Olivia’s relationship with Hannah and Edgar, Gallant’s caretakers. Hannah and Edgar are not Priors, but they rapidly become Olivia’s family, and their comforting presence creates the perfect counterpoint to the horror lurking around every corner.
In the acknowledgments, Schwab notes how the story took years to take shape, describing it as “not only a work of love, but patience.” I felt that love on every page of the tale, even the darkest ones, but can only wish I had been more patient. However, Gallant is a book that demands to be devoured. The story unfolds quickly, but nothing ever feels rushed and it reaches a satisfying, albeit dark and bittersweet ending—an ending that arrived much too fast.
Gallant is perfect for fans of gothic tales and found families. The end came much too fast, but I am certain this is not a book that will lose its magic simply because the mystery has been solved. Like all of Schwab’s novels, Gallant is enchanting, not only because of its haunting setting and compelling characters but because of the raw, lyrical prose that brings this world to life. That is something that will never lose its magic, no matter how many times it is read. Like the door in the garden at Gallant, this novel is already calling to me, begging to be read again.