Published by Greenwillow Books (1st March 2022)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Olivia Prior is an orphan, she’s grown up in Merilance school for girls, she has no knowledge of her mother past the old, tattered journal she clings to and no ability to speak. She sees the ghosts of those that once were, and moves through life wanting more, wanting to belong somewhere; she wants a family. So when a letter arrives from her Uncle, inviting her to come and live with him in Gallant, she couldn’t pack her bag fast enough, even though her mother’s journal specifically tells her to stay away from Gallant at all costs. On arrival, Olivia notices that Gallant is strange, there’s secrets and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses the old crumbling wall, she finds herself in a place that mirrors this one, where there is another Gallant – one decayed and derelict. A place filled with ghouls and the master that rules them. Now she understands what has plagued her family line, and the possible place where her father may have lived. Will she take her place as a Prior and protect the wall from being breached by evil? Or will she rule beside evil’s master?
I’ve only read one Schwab book before, that was This Savage Song, which I wanted to love because of the whole focus on music and the unique world and story that she had created, however the pacing fell a bit short for me in that one. I couldn’t go past this one once I saw the cover and read the blurb. I’m on a bit of a horror kick this year and I felt like this still fit the bill while being a little bit different at the same time. The premise was super interesting and I was keen to see what would happen.
I’ll admit, when I first picked this one up, I was tempted to put it back down again. I can’t even explain why, after starting it, I just had this moment where I was like “Nah…I don’t think this is what I’m looking for right now.” However, I made myself stick with it because I hate putting books down as I generally don’t go back to them. I am glad that I stuck with it, but I still don’t know a hundred percent how I felt about the story, and to be honest, it didn’t feel like a whole lot really happened in the story itself.
I found the world to be intriguing, it gave me old London vibes; cold, cobble stones, overcast sky. And I loved this, I really felt like I was there. And I absolutely loved the whole premise of the mirror world – so to speak. I knew from the cover what we were most likely going to get, and when Olivia arrives at Gallant and saw the wall and the gate, I knew that I was right. I loved the idea of there being this ‘other’ version of Gallant and the world surrounding it. But I feel like we didn’t really get that much back story on it. I wanted to delve deeper into the reason behind why it exists and how it came about, and I just feel like we didn’t really get that. The story touched on it, but I wanted more. I will say that from the get go this gave me major gothic horror vibes in it’s creation of a bleak atmosphere and creepy details.
I loved the character of Olivia, the fact that she didn’t speak was a wonderfully unique aspect to the story, and it was done really well. I also loved the descriptions of how she saw some of the ghouls, just fragments floating in the hallway, or by a door. I felt like the descriptions of these sightings were beautifully written and I really enjoyed this in the story itself. I did find Olivia’s personality a little grating at times, but I grew to like her as the story progressed. The support characters were well written for what they were and I enjoyed the character of…I have totally blanked on the name, but he’s the groundskeeper (essentially) of Gallant. I loved that he could speak sign language and Olivia had someone she could truly communicate with, this warmed my heart a little. Olivia’s cousin annoyed me, I understand why he was being so cold, rude and blunt, but it still annoyed me. Instead of just explaining things he had to go and be all moody about the fact that Olivia wasn’t just going away like he wanted. Their relationship did seem to change pretty quickly, but I also feel like it was organic in it’s transformation as well. The character of ‘death’ in the other Gallant was so well written, as were his soldiers. It can be so difficult to really instill a sense of dread, fear or sense of hopelessness and really make a character come across as unstoppable, yet Schwab did a wonderful job of this and really nailed it, this was probably my favourite part of the story in all honesty. His powers and the sense that he would bring the entire world to it’s knees should he be let free was so strong and Schwab’s writing really brought that through well.
I did feel that this story could have delved deeper into a lot of things, even just the character relationships. The story as a whole felt like it was just skimming the surface of something so much deeper and I feel like it would have been super cool to get to explore that some more. The history, backstories, characters, character relationships. All of it could have been expanded I feel. This story did feel like the right demographic is probably lower young adult to young adult, so I guess the depth of everything probably fit quite well for that, but I feel that it had so much potential that was not explored.
All in all, it was an enjoyable story once I got into the swing of it, I did enjoy the characters and the basis of the story itself, I just wish everything had have been explored a lot deeper than what it was. I feel like there was missed potential and for me, the story ended up being okay, but not amazing. I do think that this would be a great book for a younger reader who is beginning their foray into the horror genre as it’s easy enough to read and isn’t super complex.
*= Read book. Repeat may earn commission on purchases made through these links.