By: V.E. Schwab, Manuel Sumberac (illustrator) Audiobook: 7 hours 41 minutes
Published: March 1, 2022 Narrated by: Julian Rhind-Tutt
Genre: Tween/Young Adult, Gothic
For so long, Gallant was nothing but that word, the last one her mother ever wrote. Now she knows it is a place, and she is “here,” and if she is not allowed to stay beyond the night, well then, she wants to see as much of it as possible. To learn the contours of the house where her mother lived, as if knowing one will help explain the other, (Chapter Six).
There are many authors who write across different age groups—Adult, Teen/Young Adult, and Children—within the same literary genre. In many cases, the books are read and are enjoyed across all age groups. In other cases, the popularity of an author could lead to other readers “discovering” a new genre or subgenre to read for enjoyment. V.E. Schwab is a popular bestselling author who has books across all genres of speculative fiction for all age groups. Gallant—her latest book—is for Tween/YA readers, and one can argue this book can be seen as an introduction to “modern gothic literature” for that age group.
The protagonist in this novel is Olivia Prior. She is an orphan who, as a baby, was left outside the gates of Merilance School for Independent Girls. She believes her mother left her there because Olivia’s only possession is her mother’s journal; which has the letter “G” engraved on it. Olivia has read the journal numerous times and has memorized all of her mother’s words. This is significant because Olivia is unable to communicate with anyone. Olivia Prior is mute to the point where she cannot make a sound even when she is in pain (which does not mean she cannot feel or express pain). However, Olivia can see beyond the shadows of the schoolhouse at the ghouls that “reside” there. Even if she wanted to tell the other girls and her teachers about the ghouls (which, she doesn’t), then Olivia couldn’t due to the lack of communication amongst them. Olivia refuses to write her thoughts and what she wants to say, and all of the other residents refuse to learn how to sign. In addition to Olivia’s loneliness, Olivia is approaching adulthood and she neither has any marriage prospects nor has any (useful) skills (she cannot speak) to work, and Olivia knows she cannot remain at the school (not that she wants to). However, one day, the Head Matron gives Olivia a letter that was addressed to her. Apparently, Olivia’s “uncle” has been searching for her for years, ever since her mother “ran away” from home. Olivia is excited to have living relatives and a place to call home. Unfortunately, when Olivia arrives at her family’s home, she becomes aware of 3 things. One, her mother’s name was Grace. Two, Olivia’s uncle has been dead for some time, which means he did NOT write that letter. Three, the home is an estate called, “Gallant,” which is the place Olivia’s mother warned her to stay away from. This last observation is essential because Matthew, Olivia’s cousin, demands that she leaves immediately. Olivia must decide on whether or not having a home is worth the risk of the danger both her mother and her cousin fear.
The plot of this novel is one you would expect in a YA book. An orphan learns she has living relatives and a place to call home, only to be told to leave shortly after arriving there. There is something eerie and mysterious about the estate, and as Olivia explores the manor and the grounds, she begins to have more questions than answers. Especially after Olivia finds her mother’s second journal, which has entries about her father. What is going on at Gallant? Who sent the letter to Olivia and why? There are 2 subplots in this novel, and they are linked to the plot of this story. The first subplot surrounds the ghouls who “reside” at Gallant; and, Olivia is not the only one who can see them. The second subplot focuses on Olivia’s parentage. Who was Olivia’s father? And, what happened to Olivia’s mother? The plot and the subplots in this novel delves into the mysteries of Gallant. Matthew might have the answers, but he is very reluctant to say anything. This provides the catalyst needed for the plot to develop at an appropriate rate.
The narrative is told from Olivia’s point-of-view, which is very intriguing when you remember she is mute. As for the sequence, Olivia’s P.O.V. is presented in the present. However, whenever Olivia reads her mother’s journal, those are presented as flashbacks. This is because journals, diaries, etc., are an individual’s thoughts and streams-of-consciousness written down at the moment in that present. One can argue Olivia is able to comprehend her mother’s emotions from her journal entries (including her fears, her concerns, etc.,) similar to how the audience learns about Olivia’s thoughts through her stream-of-consciousness. All of these aspects present Olivia as a reliable narrator whose narrative can be followed easily.
The style V.E. Schwab uses for Gallant reflects the Gothic genre. However, this book is for Tween and Young Adult readers, so (Adult) fans of Schwab’s other books should keep this in mind while reading this book. Another thing to keep in mind is Gallant is a Gothic novel with elements of horror written into it. The horror elements are included (probably) so young readers who are fans of horror can enjoy this book without getting sidelined by the Gothic aspects. The mood in this novel is eerie. Olivia’s life and existence is a mystery, Matthew is scared out of his mind, and there are ghouls everywhere. The tone in this novel is ominous. Olivia and Matthew have been warned about Gallant, yet neither one of them can nor will leave the estate. The book (the print and the ebook editions) have illustrations and “text” from Olivia’s mother’s journals. Without getting into spoilers, yes the “pages of the journal” are essential for the narrative (and the plot development).
The appeal for Gallant have been positive. Fans of V.E. Schwab’s previous books (for all ages) will enjoy this book. However, readers need to keep in mind that this book is for Tweens and Young Adults. Many of those readers have most likely read works by Edgar Allan Poe, but are still not as familiar with Gothic fiction as Adult readers. In fact, I would recommend this book to young readers who enjoyed horror stories such as Schwab’s Cassidy Blake series and Katherine Arden’s Small Spaces series. Adult readers should read this book expecting it to have a lighter tone than most of the Gothic fiction they’ve read previously because it’s for younger readers. I listened to the audiobook edition of Gallant and Julian Rhind-Tutt did an amazing job narrating this book. If anyone is interested in listening to the audiobook, then I strongly recommend that you do.
Gallant is a great Gothic story for Tween and Young Adult readers. While this is another great story by V.E. Schwab, Adults and Gothic fans should keep in mind this narrative blend both Gothic and horror with a tone light enough to not scare younger readers. Fans of V.E. Schwab will enjoy this book as much as her other ones.
My Rating: Enjoy It (4 out of 5).