Book Review: “Gallant” by V.E. Schwab

Is this the time to admit that I’ve never read The Secret Garden? I think I once watched one of the movies, a long time ago, but I couldn’t tell you anything about it. I assume there’s a hidden garden, and so I picked up Gallant on a whim because it sounded like a better version of The Secret Garden to me.

First and foremost, this is a kids’ fiction book, so the language is very simple. It’s told in present-tense, third-person limited narrator. The narrator only focuses on Olivia, the main character, and so we get nothing of Matthew (her cousin) or Hannah and Edgar (the caretakers). Occasionally, we get a small snippet of what’s happening in the “other” garden and its other occupants, but never enough to fully figure out what’s happening. I’m not a huge fan of present-tense narration (some people say it builds tension, but I have never felt that), and I sort of wish it had been either more focused on Olivia and what’s going on in her head (first person), or given us a few more perspectives. If this was written for a YA or adult audience, I’m sure it would have differing perspectives throughout the book instead of just focusing on Olivia.

In keeping with the audience age level, Olivia is somewhat of a whiny child. I don’t think it’s ever mentioned how old she is in the book, but as with a lot of kids’ fiction/YA books, she’s an absolute nightmare in the beginning, believing that she’s better than everyone else and keeping to herself, because nobody else can understand her. And in a way, I understand, because she’s in an orphanage and she’s mute and nobody has ever taken the time to learn how to read her sign language. Thankfully, she does get a bit better as the book goes on, but the beginning is a little hard with how much “I’m independent because I have to be” is thrown in your face.

The book is 334 pages, but the print is so big and the margins are so wide that it’s very easy to breeze through the book. Not a lot happens in the first half of the novel, and things seem to rush too much in the second half (after Olivia goes beyond the Gate). The pacing is a little odd, but a lot of this can be chalked up to it being made for a much younger audience than me, so I’m going to give it a pass on that.

In terms of how it compares to The Secret Garden…well, I can’t tell you anything about that book because I’ve never read it, but I will say I do absolutely love the parallel world/houses trope. The illustration on the cover is an actual statue inside the house, too, so I thought including that was pretty neat.

In something completely unrelated to the contents of the book at all, the dust jacket on this book has an incredible parchment-like feel, and the book itself smells amazing. I’m all for reading ebooks, but sometimes you just need the feel of a hardcover book in your hands.

All in all, I think this book is a solid 4/5 stars. I think if I were a bit younger, I would have loved it more. Or if it wasn’t in present-tense. (Can we stop making present-tense narration a thing? Please?) As it is, it’s a perfectly fine book, very easy to read if you’re looking for something to help you get over reader’s block, and it’s a sweet little story. I wish Olivia had been able to save the person she went into the Other Garden to find, but you can’t have everything. The book also leaves no set-up for a sequel, so it’s refreshing to get a one-and-done novel from one of my favorite authors.

What do you think about present-tense narration? Do you like the parallel worlds trope? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.

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