Fourteen-year-old Olivia Prior has grown up at the Merilance School for Independent Girls. At least, it calls itself a school. Really, it is an asylum for the young and the feral. For the fortuneless. For the orphaned and unwanted.
Olivia is young. She is an orphan. The school matrons think she is feral although if they learned to sign, Olivia could tell them why she is always so angry.
She doesn’t think she is unwanted. She has her mother’s journal–all of the words and sketches that she long ago memorized. She has the final letter her mother wrote to her at the end of the notebook. The letter where she tells Olivia that she will always be safe. As long as she stays away from Gallant.
What her mother didn’t know, back then, is that eventually Olivia would have nowhere else to go.
It starts with a letter from family Olivia never knew she had telling to come home. Come to Gallant.
It starts when she walks through the doors and feels at home for the first time.
It starts when she realizes the barely-there ghouls haunting the property aren’t strangers the way they were at Merilance but ancestors.
Olivia isn’t sure if she is wanted–her cousin Matthew certainly doesn’t make her feel that way. But she knows she needs Gallant, needs its answers. And she thinks the stately old house and its tattered occupants might need her too in Gallant (2022) by V. E. Schwab.
Gallant is a standalone novel. The story is accompanied by black and white illustrations from Manuel Šumberac which bring Olivia’s mother’s journal to life for readers. Olivia and most of the cast are white; the house’s handyman Edgar is described as having brown skin.
Readers learn early on that Olivia is unable to speak–something that severely limits her ability to communicate at Merilance where the teacher who taught her sign language has since left and where most of the other students and teachers assume being unable to speak also means Olivia is unable to hear or of limited intelligence–both of which prove patently untrue as Olivia’s sharp internal dialog unfolds.
Schwab weaves together a puzzle-like narrative as the pieces of Olivia’s past are laid out with excerpts from her mother’s journal accompanying each chapter until the entire piece can be read as a whole. Interludes from another, stranger house and its master add tension and urgency to this otherwise quiet story as Olivia learns more about Gallant and her family’s role there. Fantasy elements slowly unfold alongside this exploration as the sinister master and his house are further explained in an artful nod to gothic horror.
Gallant is a distinct, melancholy story. Atmospheric descriptions of Gallant’s dilapidated elegance and its tense residents will win over readers as quickly as they entrance Olivia; a beautiful and thoughtfully introspective story that toes the line between life and death. Recommended.
Possible Pairings: Book of Night by Holly Black, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson, Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson, A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth, Crimson Peak
*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*