Growing up at the Merilance School for Independent Girls, Olivia Prior has felt like an outsider all of her life. This feeling is made all the worse for the ghouls that she sees haunting the shadows of the school and the rambling madness of her mother’s journal, which is Olivia’s only connection to her family. When she receives a letter from a long-lost uncle inviting her to come to their family home called Gallant, Olivia leaves the school and travels to the mysterious home. When she gets there, she learns a dark secret about the house that threatens her entire world.
This is an atmospheric, creepy blend of gothic, fantasy, and horror.
Olivia is an interesting character. She’s not able to speak except through sign language, which no one at the school knows, so she has spent years being unable to communicate effectively with anyone. This has made her withdrawn and angry, and she takes those feelings to Gallant and its residents. While I sympathized with her, I did also find her to be annoying on occasion. She came into Gallant ready for a fight and brought a lot of trouble to herself and Hannah, Edgar, and Matthew.
Beyond Olivia, I felt that the other characters in the story were not well developed. The book is mainly about Olivia and her mother and father, but we learn very little about her parents and next to nothing about Hannah, Edgar, and Matthew. Since so much of the plot revolves around Olivia and I was not a huge fan of her character, I didn’t enjoy the story as much as I expected to.
I found the storyline incredibly compelling and the prose was evocative. Victoria Schwab is such an excellent writer and her talents are on full display in this novel. I loved the language and the creepy images that were incorporated into the story. I found the secrets of the house to be chilling and thought Schwab ratcheted up the tension when Olivia eventually crosses the wall and experiences what is haunting the other side. I did think the story wrapped up a little too quickly, but overall I enjoyed the pacing and storyline.
CW: death, graphic injuries, suicide