I am a massive fan of VE Schwab. I first got into her writing with The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, and have since been trying to get my hands on every book of hers I possibly can.
When I saw that I had the opportunity to read an ARC of her latest piece, Gallant, I took it instantly. I started reading and was done in a matter of days, snatching chapters while I waited for my son to get out of school and during his nap. I couldn't put it down - it was a combination of all of my favorite things!
Below is my review of Gallant, but to put it shortly, read this book. It's fantastic, it's thoughtful, and it's incredibly fun to read. This review is as spoiler-free as possible, but I think it's probably best to go in knowing nothing about it at all.
That being said, here's what I thought of Gallant.
Gallant's Mirror Worlds
One of the biggest draws Gallant held for me was in the initial teasers released by Schwab. It was a passage from the perspective of a mysterious "master of the house," which read ominously even without context.
When you actually begin reading and learn who this master is, this scene becomes infinitely creepier and more intense, but also infinitely sadder. The language Schwab uses cuts the story into halves - two worlds with two very different feelings to them.
It's amazing what such simple descriptions of the world around you can do to change your perspective of it; safe and dangerous, light and dark, moving and still, silent and loud - these dichotomies place the twin worlds in Gallant in stark contrast, but don't completely separate them.
We're walking between them right alongside our protagonist, Olivia. Different worlds, but joined at the hip. Or, I suppose, at the wall.
I love that those halves never feel disconnected. Through Olivia's story and her experiences traveling between them, we learn to empathize with both sides of the coin. Yes, there's a villain, and he's terrifying. Still, you can't help but mourn for him, trapped in a world devoid of light and life and sound.
Losses and Loves
Another aspect I adored about Gallant was the love story. And yes, this odd story about a young girl does include a love story in the background.
It was exactly the kind of thing I enjoy. It's dark and twisted, a sort of villain-falls-for-a-hero story, but the couple is made of two fascinating, fun-to-read characters in their own right. Admittedly, we didn't see as much of one half as I would have liked, but I think that adds to the beauty and mystery of it all.
And it's not just the romantic love that I enjoy in this story. Olivia and Matthew's relationship is such a fun one to read - both have seen serious amounts of grief and pain, and have every right to be furious with the world, but find hope in each other. The piano scenes will stick with me for a long time to come; just two kids, in an empty manor, with the soft sounds of a melody between them in the place where words might have been.
The tragedy of it all is that despite the fact that the story is hopeful and full of love, it's also a story about death, and about the wasting of the world. It's a story that centers on loss. We're seeing young love in retrospect, from their orphaned child. We're seeing a devoted and heartbroken father and a naive and curious boy from the lonely son and brother. From chapter one, we're introduced to ghouls - half-there shadows of people who were, but no longer are.
I expected loss from page one, and still, I cried when it happened because this book bears a stubborn hope that's hard to shake, which is part of what makes it so good.
The Meaning of Home
The big takeaway from Gallant, at least for me, was what it means to be home. It's difficult to talk about this idea without spoiling the book, so I'll try to touch on it briefly.
As someone who had the experience of feeling "other" and unwanted in an academic environment, and who has found home in unexpected places, the idea of needing to find home beyond the bounds of the world you know hits...well, it hits home.
Olivia is the product of a choice to redefine home, on both sides of the situation. Her return to Gallant is a part of this search and seems to bring her story full circle. Her relationship with Matthew proves that home is what you make of it, not just where you've ended up by chance.
In her own words...
"Home is a choice, and she has chosen Gallant."
Gallant is a really fun read. It's perfect for horror fans that want just enough creep without being kept awake at night and perfect for romance fans who like the darker side of it. It's existentially unsettling, but hopeful, in a way I never thought I needed a book to be.
I can't wait to get my hands on a physical copy of it. Ms. Schwab, you've outdone yourself again.
Gallant is scheduled for publication in March of 2022, though Greenwillow Books. You can preorder it here.