Gallant Book Review
It's been a while, but I finally have a book to rave about! Prepare for lots of gushing.
Gallant is the second V.E. Schwab book I've read (you can find my review for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue here), and I am falling even more in love with her writing. I highly enjoyed both books, but I liked this one a little more, at least for this time of year.
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy / Dark Academia
Category: Cozy Read
Want to know more about how we categorize books? See our Lexicon for details.
RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
Plot: 4.5/5 stars
Characters: 4/5 stars
World: 4.5/5 stars
Merilance was a house, but it would never be a home.
There was that word again––safe. But what is safe? Tombs are safe. Merilance was safe. Safe does not mean happy, does not mean well, does not mean kind.
Olivia Prior is all alone, and not just because she is an orphan living at Merilance School for Girls. She is also mute, and with hardly anyone around her who knows sign language (or even bothers to try to communicate with her), it's hard to make friends. Her only constant companion—aside from the ghosts she alone can see—is a journal of her mother's, which contains mysterious entries that devolve into madness, inkblot-like artworks, and a warning from her mother to avoid Gallant. But when she receives a letter from an uncle, calling her home, Olivia cannot pass up the opportunity to leave Merilance.
When she arrives, no one is expecting her, and her cousin is unwelcoming. But Olivia is not leaving, at least not without answers about her parents, the ghouls she can see, and the mysterious garden wall everyone seems keen to avoid. She decides to investigate, and steps through the garden wall into a place that—and is not—Gallant. She soon learns that being a Prior comes with massive responsibility, as well as a chance at going mad.
She has never believed in higher powers, because if there were higher powers then they took her father and mother, they took her voice, they left her in Merilance with nothing but a book. But there are lower powers, stranger ones, and there in the dark, behind the door, she prays to them.
This story is a gorgeous blend of mystery, magic, darkness, and simplicity. The mystery isn't all that complicated or hard to parse out since the reader gets glimpses into what's going on at the Other Gallant, but it was still fun to watch Olivia solve it. I think it leant to the coziness. The ghouls and other world played an interesting role, adding the right amount of spooky to an otherwise cozy plot.
I loved every moment of this story and devoured it in no time. I have been disappointed and underwhelmed by YA books all year, maybe longer, so Gallant was a breath of fresh air. It’s easily one of my favorite reads this year, as well as one of my favorite standalones.
I can see the argument that the main confrontation could have been avoided if Matthew had been upfront with Olivia from the beginning, but I think it all had to happen—sometimes we have to see things for ourselves, and Olivia was able to unlock parts of herself and Gallant, and get answers, that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
Olivia Prior has never been a quiet girl. She has always made a point of making noise, everywhere she goes, in part to remind people that just because she cannot speak, does not mean that she is silent, and in part because she simply likes the weight of sound, likes the way it takes up space.
Olivia's inability to speak is really sad, but I'm grateful to her. She allowed me to see the world through a new lens. It sheds light on the struggles of those who cannot use their voice to be heard (literally and figuratively) and gave me a new appreciation of something I take for granted. I could feel her anger and frustration, as well as her loneliness, and was so happy when she would find other ways to force people to listen to her. Her sassiness and stubbornness make her just as likable as her bravery and determination.
People assume a lot of things about Olivia. Most of them are wrong.
Matthew kind of made me mad, to be honest. He's a jerk to Olivia when she first arrives, makes cryptic remarks without elaborating, and is desperate for her to be sent away from Gallant. But it's clear from the beginning, and made more evident as the story unravels, that Matthew has good intentions and is trying to protect Olivia from having her life ruined by Gallant and the Prior curse. His story broke my heart, especially when he constantly pushes away everyone who wants to be there for/with him because he's worried about protecting them. Every time he opened up a bit, it made me so happy.
It was also hard to not like Edgar and Hannah, the caretakers of Gallant, and its sole residents aside from Matthew. Both are instantly welcoming to Olivia, and Edgar knows sign language, so she finally has someone to talk to and translate for her. I like that they're so protective of Matthew, Gallant, and even Olivia. They're the parents she never had but always deserved.
The Master of the House (in Other Gallant), or Death as Olivia's mom refers to him in her journal, is an interesting villain, but I wish we could have learned more about him, his origin, and his shadows.
This book is highly atmospheric with so many VIBES! I loved this cozy-dark world with its mysterious journals, curious sculptures, lush gardens, ghosts, and contrasting alternate realities. I got swept up in the dark academia vibes and magic, and would have happily spent more time in this little world.
Gallant takes place in three locations: Merilance School, Gallant, and the other Gallant beyond the wall. But they are so vivid and important that it doesn't matter how few locations there are.
Merilance is a dreary, gray place full of stiff nuns hiding their hypocritical secrets and rude girls who break as many rules as they can get away with. It illustrates how hard society is on girls, with its too-high expectations, pressure to conform, and little room for independence or anything unconventional.
Gallant is a huge mansion that, despite being empty of people and brimming with ghosts, still manages to be cozy and full of life—the exact opposite of the other Gallant, which is gray, dead, quiet, and magical.
The ghosts and shadows were interesting, but I would have liked more distinction between the two—what makes them different and where do the shadows come from? But I liked that the ghouls don't pose any real threat, that they try to help and reach out. It was nice being able to enjoy something spooky without the fear factor.
Gallant quickly became one of my favorite reads this year; it's definitely in my Top Five. The story is beautiful and heartbreaking, the setting is atmospheric, the magic is simple but believable, and the illustrations are gorgeous. And it's just the right amount of spooky to make for a perfect cozy fall read.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for disabled/nonverbal representation, a general cozy, dark read, as well as fans of Coraline, Crimson Peak, and The Haunting of Bly Manor—pretty much anything with two worlds, ghosts, a haunting story, and gothic vibes *chef’s kiss*.