VE Schwab is a prolific writer of fantasy across age groups and subgenres. Her adult fantasy The Invisible Life of Addie Larue remains one of my all-time favourites, and her City of Ghosts trilogy is a wonderful fantasy adventure for the 8-14 age group. Her latest offering, Gallant, is targeted at a teenage or YA audience, but makes a great easy read for adults too. It’s an atmospheric, slow build read with elements of Neil Gaiman. The ending isn’t quite as satisfying as I might have liked, but otherwise this is another solid entry to Schwab’s shelves that any fan of fantasy mysteries or the haunted house genre should enjoy.
Sixteen-year-old Olivia Prior can barely remember a time when she wasn’t alone. Her parents have vanished, and almost no-one at Merilance School for Orphaned Girls has bothered to learn how to communicate with a girl with no voice. When she receives a mysterious letter from an uncle she’s never met, inviting her to join him at his estate of Gallant, it seems like a dream come true, aside from one thing: A note in her mother’s old journal, the only piece of her she has left. ‘You will be safe as long as you stay away from Gallant’. Her options few, Olivia arrives at Gallant – but her welcome isn’t what she expected, and she soon finds herself surrounded by a family secret that might just spell her end.
The biggest strength of the book is Schwab’s writing. Atmospheric and haunting, it paints lingering images of Merilance, of Gallant, and of its inhabitants – both living and dead. It’s perhaps pitched a little young – Olivia is sixteen, but this is probably aimed at the 12+ age group, and she reads younger than she is – but nonetheless, the writing effectively builds tension without ever being age inappropriate.
Gallant pitches itself as ‘The Secret Garden’ meets ‘Stardust’, and certainly much of the imagery is clearly Gaiman inspired. However, even with the clear inspiration from other works and use of fantasy tropes, Gallant still stands out as its own work without feeling too reliant on or too similar to predecessors. It helps that Olivia feels very much like a Schwab protagonist – a feisty, adventurous girl fond of sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong and leaping into action before thinking about the consequences.
I liked the disability representation in the form of Olivia’s mutism, although a disabled reviewed would be better placed to vouch as to its accuracy.
The plot starts slowly, letting us get to know and sympathise with Olivia, revealing more and more secrets and unspooling at a greater and greater pace. The ending is fast-paced and almost over too quickly, with one final twist which is very clever but a certain lack of satisfaction. It would be helped by an extra thirty to fifty pages allowing the finale more time and impact – it almost feels like there’s a page limit as this is a YA not adult novel. Still, there’s enough there to hold it together and make it feel like a complete and enjoyable story. There is one trope in the ending which personally felt unncessary, but that’s a personal quibble that others may disagree with.
Overall, Gallant is an atmospheric YA fantasy novel perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman, haunted house stories, and family secrets.
Published by Titan Books
Hardback: 8th March 2022