Gallant – VE Schwab

“Rain drums its fingers on the garden shed.

Olivia’s life is one of absence: a voice, parents, belonging – she has none of these. Instead she has the ability to see ghouls, shadowy people in varying states of decay. She also has her mother’s journal, which ends on the sentence, “You will be safe as long as you stay away from Gallant.”

But when a letter arrives from an uncle she never knew about, her need to leave Merilance School for Girls is stronger than her fear of Gallant, her family’s estate. When she arrives, though, there’s no warm welcome, only servants and rules: don’t go out in the dark, and don’t cross the wall in the garden. But whatever lies beyond calls to her – to Olivia and to her unwelcoming, cursed cousin, who screams in the night, tied to his bed.

But ‘home is a choice’, as the journal said. Olivia wants to choose, finally, no matter the cost.

I absolutely loved the mood this book invokes: very gothic, full of longing and outsiderness and shadows, both real and metaphorical. Making Olivia mute is such an interesting choice, too, not least the allegory that she’s never been given voice to make her own decisions about her life, instead as impotent as the shadowy ghouls it seems only she can see.

I really liked the other world, too, on the other side of the wall. If Gallant is gothic, then what lies beyond in the shadow realm – well, I’ll leave that to the reader!

On the downside, I’d say this reads far more as a YA book than I was expecting. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it does mean the story feels pared down, lean and taut and with a relentless pace. It might have been nice to slow and tarry a while longer, build up more of the sense of unease before rushing to a finale. It also means several elements, including the beginning in Merilance and the ghouls, were a left a little under-developed and not quite used to the full.

Still, it’s as gorgeously written as any of VE Schwab’s novels. The story is about yearning to belong, family and duty, life and death. Her words are as much a painting as the lovely and intriguing artwork in the book, and I loved being able to visit – if a little too briefly – the worlds she’s created here, dark and ominous as they were.

gallant coverNetGalley eARC: 352 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 1st March 2022
Series: none
Read from 16th-19th February 2022

My rating: 8.5/10

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