Olivia has no home, not among family, not at the girls’ orphanage/school where she’s begrudgingly given a place. She has no voice, can make no sound, and so the other girls and the matrons turn away from her. Then one day, a letter from an unknown uncle arrives, and Olivia is whisked away to a place she’s been warned never to go, her ancestral estate, Gallant. Ever since she could read, Olivia has known about Gallant, mentioned only in her mother’s last letter to her, a plea to stay away, as Gallant is not safe. But an unsafe home among the last remnants of family has to be better than being alone in the world, doesn’t it?
This is essentially a battle story, the forces of good vs evil, keeping a dangerous enemy from exploding into the world. However, it’s a really unique take on the old story, with themes about found family and disability and discrimination and purpose. There’s an ages-old interplay of destiny vs free agency, and all the grey in between. The setting drips with shadows and portents. It would have been easy to devolve into traditional gothic tropes, but instead, Schwab found ways to ground the story in humanity: the mourning for a dead cat that Olivia didn’t actually even like. The piecemeal appearance of the ghouls that only she can see. The instinctual use of sign language even when no one around her speaks it. All these little things brought the novel from fairy tale or horror story into multidimensional life.
Schwab has continued to impress me, and given how many age groups she writes for, this is particularly notable. One day, I’ll go back to retry her Shades of Magic series, which I tried reading back in 2015, but gave up pretty quickly because I’d grown tired of reading fantasy books set in London. Even at the time, I knew I’d likely return to it one day, but as years passed, I never felt the urge. The more I read by Schwab, though, the more sure I become that I’ll enjoy the series, as well as some of her others. I’ll slowly read through them all! In the meantime, I really enjoyed Gallant. It was beautifully imagined, plotted, and written. Definitely recommend.