Sixteen-year-old Olivia Prior is missing three things: a mother, a father, and a voice. Her mother vanished all at once, and her father by degrees, and her voice was a thing she never had to start with.
She grew up at Merilance School for Girls. Now, nearing the end of her time there, Olivia receives a letter from an uncle she’s never met, her father’s older brother, summoning her to his estate, a place called Gallant. But when she arrives, she discovers that the letter she received was several years old. Her uncle is dead. The estate is empty, save for the servants. Olivia is permitted to remain, but must follow two rules: don’t go out after dusk, and always stay on the right side of a wall that runs along the estate’s western edge.
Beyond it is another realm, ancient and magical, which calls to Olivia through her blood…
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review and can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Life at Merilance is all Olivia Prior has ever known. She doesn’t fit in, her inability to speak making her something of a curiosity to the other children, someone weak, someone to pick on. But they don’t know just how special Olivia is. She has always longed for a life somewhere else, with people that love her, but the only remnant she has of her family is her mothers old diary filled with ramblings and strange drawings she can’t make sense of. But there is one thing she can understand ‘Remember this – the shadows are not real, the dreams cannot hurt you & you will be safe as long as you stay away from Gallant.’ Something she is quite able and happy to do until a letter appears calling her to the house, and with it, the promise of family she can’t resist. However, when she gets there things are different than she expected, the only family is her cousin, a weak but strong minded boy who is adamant that Olivia should leave immediately, and two servants who are never quite seem willing to say why. But Olivia will learn the truth soon enough, and once she does the whole of her life will start to make sense to her, and she will have to decide between the living breathing family and the dead one she never got to meet.
Olivia was such a brilliantly written character. Schwab has this way of bringing her characters to life whilst almost making you as the reader become them whilst reading, and Olivia was no exception. A girl unable to make noise in the way most people can she ensures that she is heard through other means. She keeps herself apart from the other girls, not because she is afraid, but because she knows she is different, knows she doesn’t fit in at the school, but when she arrives at Gallant she becomes brighter, louder, she comes out of her shell and I really enjoyed seeing her open up to people and learn what it means to be part of a family. Schwab does a brilliant job at allowing Olivia to express herself in different ways throughout the book. We don’t need her to be able to speak to know her thoughts, understand her actions, and Schwab makes it incredibly easy for us as the reader to root for her throughout the story.
Gallant is most definitely a character driven story & because of that we spend a large part of the book learning about Olivia, how she came to be where she is, following her in learning the truth about her mother and father. So if you like your books a little more action packed and plot driven, then this might not be for you. There’s a strong side cast, some having a larger impact on the story than others, but they all have some emotional pull that tugs to us as the reader and I found myself easily as invested in some of them as I was Olivia herself.
Told with Schwab’s usual descriptive writing and lush prose this is an easy book to loose yourself in & at just over 300 pages, one that is incredibly quick and easy to read. I loved the mystery of Olivia’s heritage, we spend a good portion of the book wondering if her mother is still alive, who her father is, why she was left at Merilance as a baby, with the only clues being her mothers diary entries that only really start to make sense around half way through the book. It definitely starts off a little slow and I do feel like the pacing was slightly off. We spend so much of the book alongside Olivia learning about her family and the house they grew up in, but the ending seemed to come about very quickly with the events moving at an almost breakneck pace and I would have liked a little more time and development of the other Gallant.
Gallant was significantly creepier than I expected it to be and I can see why Schwab had such an issue pinning this down to a specific age range. Olivia herself is in the YA age range, but there are certain parts of this book that read towards MG and others that wouldn’t seem out of place in an adult book. I’ve already admitted to being a wimp but there were a few parts of this book that definitely gave me chills & ensured I had some very strange dreams. One thing I did love was the lack of romance. There is a slight romance arc running through as we learn about Olivia’s parents, but the main relationships she shows are familial. She shows the strength in family whether you have lived with them your whole life, or only just met, and also shows that family doesn’t have to be the traditional kind.
I am a sucker for anything Schwab writes, and as much as I loved this one, there was something that just didn’t sit right with me. The ending felt a little rushed, and I felt that the second Gallant needed a little more backstory and description, how it came to be there etc. All that being said, if you love a good character driven story, lush writing and a little creepiness then be sure to pick this one up.