Gallant (2022) by V.E. Schwab is a gothic YA novel about Olivia Prior, an orphan who has grown up at Merilance girls’ school. Olivia is nonverbal, she can see ghouls – gruesome apparitions of dead people – and her only possession is her mother’s green journal, left with her as a small child at the school, which tells a sad tale of love, loss, grief, and apparent madness. Now 14, Olivia does not have much of a future at Merilance, or anywhere else for that matter, when a strange letter arrives, claiming to be from her uncle. In it, he says that she has a family and a home waiting for her at Gallant, an estate in the northern wilds, and that day she leaves Merilance to meet the family and home she has always wanted. But as soon as she arrives she can feel that there is something strange about Gallant; the house is too big and too empty, its occupants are deeply afraid of the dark, and something sinister lurks at the bottom of the garden.

As she begins to understand her mother’s choices, her father’s death, and the strange feeling that there is more to their story than she ever knew, Olivia is drawn to the darkness at the bottom of the garden. Can she save her cousin, the only other living Prior, in time? Or will he be consumed by the madness that took her mother before she can unravel the mystery of Gallant?

Schwab has applied her trademark YA fantasy style to this markedly Gothic tale with engaging and enjoyable results. Olivia Prior is a compelling heroine, a fortune-less orphan with no family and no real home, who is nonverbal and communicates through signing – which few other people know and can understand – and drawing in her sketchbook. She has a touch of the sinister about her, not just because she can see dead people, but because she is fierce and vengeful and full of anger and determination. She takes revenge on a girl who rips her mother’s journal by collecting silverfish and pouring them into her bed at night; she shows her anger by pushing things onto the floor so they smash. She is not a sweet little girl trying to please the adults who have power over her. As such, although she is frequently in perilous or unsettling situations, there is always a certainty that she will overcome any obstacle, powered by her fury and her willpower. And there are many dreadful obstacles for her to overcome in that chilling place…

Other disquieting Gothic elements featured in Gallant include: a large empty house falling into disrepair; a beautiful garden with a sinister force within it; star-crossed lovers who have left behind a child to wonder what really happened to them; another missing child, kidnapped by a malevolent entity; hauntings; sightings of dead people; nightmares that send people to madness; and a general air of dread and doom culminating into a crossing of the threshold into a place made of ashes and despair.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Gallant is the inclusion of stylised pages from Olivia’s mother’s journal, written in a sort of poetry that is slowly unravelled through the story as Olivia learns to understand how her parents communicated. Its unravelling adds a dimension of mystery, the drawings and pages acting like a primary source to deliver their power and intrigue directly to the reader.

While Gallant contains many recognisable Gothic tropes and figures, Schwab has remixed them into a unique rendering of her own design. I would recommend this book to lovers of YA fiction, Gothic fiction, and dark mysteries with Wednesday-Addams-like heroines.

I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher in return for an honest review.

I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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