First book of 2023 and the first book toward my reading challenge, what a great way to start the year.
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 have been looking forward to this book for quite a while so I’m glad I finally picked it up, having enjoyed a couple of V.E. Schwab’s books before I knew I was in for a treat. The writing in this book is amazing, which I knew to expect, but I forgot how well this author creates an atmosphere and manages to bring a setting to life. In this case, it is the unusual and eerie world at Gallant, a house with the remnants of a family and a pretty big secret.
I loved the concept of this book, the mirrored houses and the crossing of boundaries between the two, the family secret, and the girl searching for her place in the world, it had a lot of good ingredients to make a wonderful story. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I do think it is something better experienced through reading, but it does mean that some of what I am about to write will be a little vague.
The build-up to the danger on the other side of the wall was exquisite, it provided a good dose of mystery and tension, however, I felt like it didn’t entirely carry to the other side of the wall. I thought what happened was intriguing and there was a menacing aspect to the situations that Olivia found herself in but I wanted more from it, to feel a little bit more scared, a little bit jumpier, a little bit more what I thought Olivia should be feeling, which didn’t always happen.
The story does take its time to come to fruition, which I didn’t mind because I was interested in Olivia, the pieces of her mother’s story that she knew, and finding out more about her past. I also felt that the climax of the book didn’t quite do the rest of the story justice, the pacing changed rather drastically at this point and it felt like it was all over and wrapped up too quickly, I didn’t get to really invest in what was happening as much as I had for the rest of the book, and as I had been enjoying the book so much I was a tiny bit disappointed.
Olivia is a very interesting character, she is mute so has to find different ways to communicate with the world, and I liked that she was very aware of how she made noise so that she could choose to move through a place as if she wasn’t there or be more purposeful so that people would know not to dismiss her. I loved that even in the bleakest of situations she still managed to hope and that she was a little bit unpredictable at times. Matthew deserves a mention purely because he made my heart ache, he has been through so much and still carries on even though the burden is great.
The illustrations (part of Olivia’s mother’s journal) were fantastic and so beautiful, I think that every time I looked at them I ended up taking away something different from them, especially as their context in the story changes. It was a lovely addition to the story and helps to shed even more light on Olivia’s past, the journal also gave us a little more insight into the Prior family and how difficult it was for them.
Gallant is a slow-burn, intriguing, and atmospheric story, with a fantastic premise, I’m not sure it will be for everyone but I definitely enjoyed it and I am looking forward to my next V.E. Schwab book.