43 pages 1 hour read

V. E. Schwab


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


Gallant, a Gothic YA novel by V. E. Schwab, tells the story of Olivia Prior, an orphaned girl with a speech disability who discovers that she is the heir to an estate with a mysterious and dangerous legacy. As Olivia begins to uncover the truth behind this legacy, she struggles with the question of how to make a home out of a place that is defined by tragedy and populated by people who struggle to share their own losses and secrets. V. E. Schwab is a prolific novelist of speculative fiction novels such as Vicious, the Shades of Magic trilogy, and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, that feature characters whose lives are defined by how they choose to use the power they are given. Gallant builds on this body of work. Gallant was a #1 New York Times Bestseller and the 2022 recipient of the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy.

This guide refers to the US first edition of Gallant published by Greenwillow Books in 2022.

Content Warning: This guide refers to suicide, murder, ableist language and viewpoints, and animal death.

Plot Summary

Gallant tells the story of Olivia Prior, a socially isolated orphan who does not speak due to a speech disability and who lives at the Merilance School for Independent Girls. Olivia is fiercely attached to an illustrated journal that her mother left her, and she has the ability to see “ghouls”—the ghost-like wraiths with decomposing bodies that populate the grounds of Merilance.

Olivia receives a mysterious letter from Arthur Prior, who claims to be her uncle; he implores her to live at their sprawling estate, Gallant. Olivia is excited but nervous, as she knows nothing of her mother’s family. At Gallant, Olivia is met at the door by an older couple, Hannah and Edgar, neither of whom are expecting her. Olivia shows them the letter. Matthew—Gallant’s third resident, an angry boy who is Arthur’s son—informs her that Arthur Prior died nearly a year ago. Matthew wants Olivia to leave, but Hannah insists that it’s unsafe to leave Gallant after dark.

Olivia spends the night exploring Gallant and discovers two ghouls—a woman and a man with half his face missing. She also finds a list of boarding schools and orphanages in the desk drawer. In the morning, Hannah tells Olivia that her mother, Grace, became increasingly detached from reality during her pregnancy and vanished just before Olivia’s birth. Seeing a picture of Grace, Olivia realizes that her mother is the female ghoul downstairs. Olivia finds Matthew in the rose garden. He explains that the Priors are cursed to live and die at Gallant, “driven mad by ghosts” (92). Olivia tells Hannah that she’s not ready to leave Gallant; Hannah tells Matthew that the cars that could pick her up are being repaired.

That night, Olivia wakes to Matthew yelling in his sleep; he has nightmares, and Edgar and Hannah bind his wrists. In the morning, Matthew asks Olivia if she’s begun to be haunted in her dreams yet, but Olivia doesn’t understand what this means. As she leaves Matthew, she finds a gate in the garden wall, but she’s called away before she can go through.

Over the next few days, Olivia makes more discoveries. She has a dream-vision of Arthur Prior saying that he will make the nightmares stop before shooting himself in the face; she realizes that the second ghoul is Arthur. Olivia finds a red journal under her bed, nearly identical to her mother’s green journal. In the red journal, Grace Prior tells the story of how she crossed the garden wall and met Death. She also met Olivia’s father and convinced him to cross with her. She became pregnant, and then the journal entries become erratic. In comparing the illustrations between the two journals, Olivia deduces that her mother illustrated the red journal, but her father must have illustrated the green one.

At this stage of the novel, the contents of the green journal appear in their entirety. We learn that soon after Olivia was conceived both parents became physically frail. Olivia’s father turned to ash, leaving behind a molar, which Grace destroyed. Grace’s narration addresses Olivia directly: “I do not want to leave you but I do not trust myself” (185). Grace tells Olivia to stay away from Gallant.

This first section of the novel is also punctuated by brief interludes describing the “master” of the house, an inhuman entity whose bones show through his skin. The master is attended by three “shadows” who act as guards; it is suggested that there used to be a fourth. The master longs for his lost molar and references a girl who will help him become whole again.

Olivia takes the green journal and crosses the garden wall. On the other side, she finds a world identical to the one she just left, but everything is dead—all the plants have died, and the ground is littered with teeth. There’s also a dilapidated version of Gallant on this side of the wall; Olivia, remembering a reference to her father in her mother’s journal as “the tallest shadow” (204) that found Grace in a hall, decides to enter the house to search for help. Inside, she finds the master with his three shadows. They hear her and, as she runs from them, she prays for help.

Olivia barricades herself in the study. A ghoul appears, explains he heard her prayer, and helps her escape. Outside, she finds a boy tied up on the fountain. Olivia is unable to free him before the master’s shadows find her. Olivia calls for help again, and ghouls rise from the ground, buying her just enough time to get back to the gate. Matthew opens the gate from the other side and binds the door shut with his blood. Olivia realizes that she lost the green journal while she was in shadow-Gallant’s study.

The next day, Matthew explains the other side of the wall. He says that everything in the world casts a shadow, but Gallant’s shadow is more dangerous than most. The Priors did not build Gallant, but they are drawn to it, and the Priors have taken it upon themselves to keep the entity that lives in the shadow-Gallant at bay; opening or binding the iron door with their own blood, given willingly, keeps the two realms separate. Once all the Priors are dead, there will be no one left to open the door; this is why Matthew was dismayed to learn of Olivia’s existence. Matthew tells Olivia that the master took his brother, Thomas, years ago, by luring him across the wall through his dreams. Olivia tells Matthew the boy she saw on the other side of the wall is Thomas, recognizing him from family portraits.

Olivia, Matthew, Edgar, and Hannah make a plan: Olivia will cross the wall again and retrieve Thomas, and Matthew will be there on Gallant’s side of the gate to let her back in. Matthew gives Olivia a knife, and she crosses back over.

Olivia returns to the fountain, but Thomas is gone. She returns to the study, hoping to find the green journal there, but that’s also gone. She goes up to Matthew’s bedroom, where she sees a body in the bed. The body, though, is one of the master’s shadows; the master has come up through the passage behind her, blocking her exit. The master and the shadow overpower her. Olivia wakes to find herself on a couch with her wrists bound. The master has her mother’s journal. He explains to Olivia that while he is Death embodied, she is the opposite—just as she has the power to call ghouls to her, on this side of the wall she also seems to have the power to revive things that have died. The master explains that he was the one who wrote the letter that brought her to Gallant by using his control over Matthew.

Olivia manages to flee the room, making it to a ballroom full of bones before the master and his shadows catch up with her. The master uses some of the bones to conjure images of Olivia’s parents. He explains that her father was the first shadow he ever created. When her father left, the master used his power to destroy Olivia’s father.

Olivia escapes by touching one of the master’s shadows and bringing it to life; she wills it to attack the master. She finds Thomas in the basement, and together they escape through a secret passage. Matthew meets them at the gate, and, to their mutual horror, declares the boy she’s brought over is not really Thomas. Instead, he’s a lifelike creation made by the master; shadow-Thomas proceeds to hold Olivia in place and the master and his remaining guards overpower her and Matthew. The master gets out through the gate even though Matthew bound it with his blood because, due to the gate’s age and wear, his blood was on rust and not actually on the gate’s iron.

Olivia and Matthew manage to get free from the shadows. Olivia uses her knife to hack at the ivy around the gate, keeping it open, while Matthew goes after the master. Olivia doesn’t see the shadow coming at her with a sword; Matthew steps between her and the sword, getting pierced. This gives Olivia time to fight the shadow, destroying it, and go after the master. She uses her power to create a wave of the dead that draws the master back onto the other side of the gate. She seals the gate with her blood. Olivia, Edgar, and Hannah wait with Matthew as he dies.

After Matthew’s death, Olivia decides to stay at Gallant as the only remaining Prior. She begins to have the dreams that plagued the Priors that came before. With the ghosts of Hannah, Edgar, Grace, Arthur, and Matthew with her, though, she feels some measure of peace.