Gallant, published in 2022, represents V.E. Schwab’s attempt to metamorphose from a virtuoso of the fantasy genre to an adept horror writer. But was her sudden leap across divergent genres too ambitious for her writing capabilities?
Being a sixteen-year-old mute orphan, Olivia Prior understands woeful loneliness like no other. Her sole companions are a diary detailing the disordered ramblings of her missing mother and ghouls only she can see. Despite her mother’s final written words urging Olivia to elude the family estate, Gallant, upon the arrival of an invitation from an unknown uncle the temptations of having a family prove too persuasive. However, Olivia swiftly discovers Gallant isn’t just an old house haunted by family secrets but a gateway to an ancient realm occupied by ghouls and a powerful dark master with nefarious intentions.
The premise of Gallant alone promises readers mystery, an ominous setting, supernatural happenings, and a frightful antagonist – elements typical to the horror genre. Unfortunately, Schwab’s execution fails to cultivate any feelings of terror or fear. It appears as if Schwab thought simply generating a spooky atmosphere with a gothic aesthetic would constitute horror.
Even more disappointing, the story lacks any depth or complexity. Essentially, what the readers receive from the book’s synopsis is what they get. This simplicity accompanied with a plethora of plot holes and easily predictable “plot twists” guarantees readers are invited to perceive the story as incomplete and underwhelming.
The same one-dimensional writing is undoubtedly applied to the characters who all exist only on a surface level. While the inclusion of a mute protagonist warrants some appreciation for representation, it does not substitute for the detachment readers will surely experience from Olivia. Olivia’s entire presence is dedicated to longing for a family, a voice, a home – besides this, she has no purpose or traits that can merit the interest of readers. Yet, Olivia is also somehow the most interesting character. The antagonist wasn’t introduced until the book was nearly over and had no backstory or long-term motivation. The remaining ensemble is similarly unremarkable as the secondary characters obviously exist for the simple function of providing aid to Olivia and ultimately fulfilling her desire for a family.
Overall, this book can unfortunately be summarised by one word: boring. It’s evident Schwab was out of her depth writing horror. I would only recommend Gallant to fantasy lovers seeking an extremely soft launch into the horror genre.