Review of V.E. Schwab’s Gallant
Olivia sees dead people. Well, she refers to them as ghouls, but that muddles the quote. We embark on this literary journey in V.E. Schwab’s newest edition to her incredible library of works with a peek into the life of an orphaned mute who finds herself in the company of the dead.
Before getting into it, I feel it’s necessary to preface this review with a couple of things. One, this is not my first V.E. Schwab rodeo. Two, in general I rate her books highly because I enjoy her writing style and the worlds she builds. To be frank, this book tracks. If anything, I consider Schwab’s newest entry into her library her best one yet. Why? Honestly, let me count the ways.
As I mentioned, Schwab knows how to build a world. She does an exceptional job crafting environments and moods that make for easy immersion, and this book is no exception. I found myself fully immersed in Gallant early on. She deftly and seamlessly eases you into the gray-toned, ominous atmosphere. The language and descriptive style she employs never feels forced; I don’t get the sense that she’s teaching me about the world, rather, she’s integrating me into it.
Olivia, on the other hand, is uncomfortably situated in her world. She’s an orphan with little clue into her past outside of a cryptic diary of thoughts and illustrations from her mother. Other than the odd company she involuntarily keeps, she’s a black sheep that ruffles feathers with her peers. Though we can primarily attribute her struggles connecting with others to her inability to talk, there’s a general sense that something is off about her. In the intimate moments we should be experiencing via dialog with other characters, we’re instead feeling connected directly with Olivia in her frustrations and limitations.
That being said, where there is dialog, it feels natural, honest. Despite our protagonist being mute, each interaction is meaningful; there’s not a whole lot of fluff. In fact, I believe we’re afforded additional emotion and character building because of her circumstance. There are times where another character’s flaws are highlighted by how they choose (and don’t choose) to interact with Olivia. I got frustrated alongside her when it felt like we were both on the tip of discovery, but held back because another character chose to physically turn away from her, rendering any sort of communication non-existent. Her disability is often used at both her disadvantage as well as her advantage, and it adds to her life experience without having to explicitly say so. You can feel in your bones that this is a common struggle she faces and it makes each of those moments more heartfelt and frustrating as the reader.
A trope that I’ve found hard to get used to in some of Schawb’s past works is time jumping and perspective shifts. In Gallant I believe she’s honed that skill. Narrator switches are fairly common, not only in Schawb’s body of work, but in the fantasy genre at large. In Olivia’s tale, however, she is the primary focus. Occasionally we’ll have minor, paragraph-long interludes in between chapters, but the perspective doesn’t stray far from the storytelling goal. Schwab also includes some moments where we’re thrown into Olivia’s past, but these instances sneak in as anecdotal and relevant tidbits we pick up on the way. We’re not left guessing where we are in her timeline.
I’m particularly grateful for this evolution in Schwab’s writing style because it made the pacing steadier. Even the tense parts moved at a consistent speed. I always feel like we’re moving toward this goal of finding (and more importantly choosing) home and all that it entails. It’s a delightful notion that’s carried on throughout the book without feeling like we’re lamenting on what she lacks. By the time we reach a conclusion to her journey, I’m both satiated and wanting more. This is likely one of the only epilogues I have actively wanted to read. When I read the last page of the last chapter, I immediately flipped with hunger to see if we would get a hint of a continuation. For the sake of those of you like me that don’t want to know that kind of thing before reading, just trust that the book ends well. Not to say that it ended in a good or bad way narratively, but I confidently believe you’ll be happy with either potential outcome.
If it’s not clear, I really enjoyed this book. It felt like a Lemony Snicket for adults mixed with the right amount of intrigue and momentum. The story draws you in and makes you keep reading chapter to chapter without feeling like you’re butting up to an egregious cliffhanger anytime something interesting happens.
For fellow Schawb fans (or at least readers), I think it’s important to note that she does tend to rely on tropes and general concepts that she writes around in her other books. But, honestly, I’m not sure I even care. I’m always interested to see the different perspectives she gives to a similar subject/idea and this is definitely a fine example of her doing that.
Whether it’s your first dive into a V.E. Schwab book or another entry into your TBR featuring Schwab, I would say give it a read. Every time she picks up the pen, she creates an enjoyable read. I ate this up in a matter of days, so if nothing else it’ll give you another notch in your 2022 reading goals.
Gallant by V.E. Schwab is available for purchase today at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.