Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Evocative (tick), haunting (tick), with mystery dripping from every word and page (tick), a mute, outsider heroine who is also an orphan, a ruinous but beautiful house populated by ghouls only the orphan can see… this has to be a V.E. Schwab book, doesn’t it?

After reading and adoring The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, I was keen to see how Schwab would apply her formidable writing talents and wild inventiveness to a YA book. I wasn’t disappointed.

 When Olivia Prior is summoned by a strange letter to leave the orphanage in which she’s been abandoned for years, and join the family she never knew she had, she packs up her few belongings, including her dead mother’s precious but mostly incomprehensible journal, and sets out. When she first lays eyes on the mansion her family has dwelt in for years, Gallant, despite the hostile greeting of her cousin and awkwardness of the two staff that share the rambling place with him, she tries to settle in. But she is haunted quite literally, by the half-formed ghouls that inhabit the corners, shuffle in the shadows, and the evident mystery that enshrines not just the house and grounds, but the strange wall at the end of the garden and what lies behind it.

When Olivia crosses the threshold the wall represents, she finds herself in a darker, dangerous version of Gallant. She also learns the truth of her mother and father and her family’s legacy, one that beckon her towards the gloomiest of possibilities. Desperate to belong, to understand why she’s drawn to this other place, this other, grimmer version of the future she’s been offered, Olivia has to make a choice, one that is both deadly and final.

As always, Schwab’s writing is delicious. The prose, the way each and every scene is imagined, the characters created, is so sinisterly beautiful it makes you shiver. Even the journal, which is like another character in the tale, comes alive in unexpected ways.

Yet, the story has a sense of fraying around the edges, as if it’s just a part of a whole, suggesting more than what we’ve been given. I’m not sure if this means a sequel might be in the offing, where characters and motives can be (pardon the pun) fleshed out (it becomes clear if you read the book), but even if it’s not, I enjoyed the sense of incompleteness. It requires a leap of faith, of imagination, something I think readers and lovers of YA fantasy and Schwab’s work will happily take.

With Gallant, Schwab has woven an uncanny bit of magic.

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Sweet Adversity by Sheryl Gwyther

Before I review this wonderful, heart-warming novel for Middle-School kids, Sweet Adversity, by Sheryl Gwyther, I need to declare that not only is Sheryl a very good friend of mine, but I have followed this novel’s progress from its inception a few years ago to its terrific conclusion and now reception. It has been such a labour of, not only love for Sheryl (though it is that), but passion as well. Determined to pay tribute to not just Shakespeare, but Australian history and the trials and tribulations of kids and families who fell prey to the vicissitudes of the Great War and the Depression, as well as those hardened souls who exploit hardship and suffering, Sheryl has managed to accomplish this with Sweet Adversity (pun intended there too)

The novel tells the tale of young, smart and feisty Addie McAllister who, when times become hard for her actor parents, they leave her at the Emu Swamp Children’s Home so she can be fed, educated and safe until their fortunes turn for the better. What they don’t know is that the Children’s Home is run by a greedy, soulless woman who sees in the children not so much orphans or young ones needing her care, but talents she can exploit to their full potential. Enter, Stage Left, the villainous Scrimshaw who, in league with the matron, sees in Adversity a chance to make the money they feel they deserve.

Through their avarice, a chain of events is set in motion which sees Adversity leaving Emu Swamp and encountering a series of characters who will work both for and against her. Able to inspire loyalty, Addie is also someone who gives it in spades and there’s no-one who receives it from her more than her pet Cockatiel, Macbeth, the Shakespeare-quoting bird with more character and gumption in his wing feathers than a Harbour-Bridge worker.

A relatively unknown period of Australian history provides a stark but fascinating backdrop as Addie roams the countryside and heads to Sydney, searching for what she thought she might never have again: family. But there are those with other ideas who will stop at nothing to prevent Addie achieving her heart’s desire, including threatening those she most cares about.

Evoking time and place, this is a terrific novel that once you start you’ll find hard to put down. It’s not only young people who will love this, but anyone who enjoys a tale well told, with a good dose of history, Shakespearean and other theatrics, populated with some wonderful, rich characters.

I don’t think it’s too much to say that with Sweet Adversity, Sheryl has “a hit, a very palpable hit.”


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