Victoria Schwab: “One of the tricky things about my books is that they’re never written for the same reader. It’s a choice I made, and I stand by, but it also means that someone is invariably disappointed. They might love Shades of Magic, but Vicious doesn’t work for them. They might adore Addie LaRue, but feel let down by Gallant. The found themselves in the center of the reader spot light with one of my books, and then at the edges with another. Some days I wish I wrote for the same reader every time. At least then I would be trying to please a known entity instead of knowing that I am letting someone down. But most days, I understand – the only person I can actually worry about letting down in myself. And I haven’t done that yet.” Instagram Post 3/24/2022
When I read that, I wondered if I’m the rare reader who finds enjoyment in ALL of Schwab’s books. From her middle grade City of Ghosts” series, YA “Monsters of Verity” duology, to all her adult works, I’m engaged by Schwab’s creativity and drawn in by the writing. I would classify Gallant as somewhere between older middle grade and YA. Three pages in, I was once again captivated by this simple sentence. Home is a choice. Wow, did that pack an emotional punch that resonates.
Gallant has a gothic vibe to it; it’s set in a haunted house, there are ghouls (ghost like apparitions), there is an atmosphere of mystery, dreaming and nightmares are an important plot point, there is a burdened male protagonist, and death has a very real presence. However, the female lead, Olivia, is far from a damsel in distress. Olivia is mute and was abandoned at a school for orphaned girls at the tender age of about two. With only the vaguest memories of her mother (her father seems to have died immediately after her birth), Olivia’s only tenuous connection to her past is her mother’s journal. A journal that implies her mother descended into madness.
I do not want to leave you but I no longer trust myself (there is no time there is no time there is no time to)
I’m so sorry I don’t know what else to do
Olivia, Olivia, Olivia, Remember this – the shadows (cannot touch) are not real
the dreams (are only dreams) can never hurt you
and you will be safe as long as you stay away from Gallant”
Olivia has the ability to see ghouls, spiritual remnants that hang around the school. Haunts that no one else can see. They don’t upset or disturb Olivia. She has learned that staring at them directly will cause them to fade away or leave. Olivia yearns to leave but running away would be a worse fate than staying. The only option for girls to leave is to be hired as household staff by a family in the city or sent into an arranged marriage. But fate has a different plan for Olivia when a letter arrives from a previously unknown Uncle welcoming her to come home, on stationary stamped with “Gallant” at the top.
I loved the atmosphere of this story. I appreciated that Olivia cannot speak and how that affects her ability to interact with others around her, as I think this is the first time encountering a mute protagonist. I liked her stubbornness and will. Overall this is a great read if you enjoy a gothic vibe and a female protagonist with fierce determination.