A Lesson in Vengeance / Victoria Lee / Book Review

A Lesson in Vengeance


There are ghosts in the halls of Dalloway School and not just the long-dead kind. Sure, Felicity Morrow spent her senior year--well, her first senior year--studying the infamous witches of the school's founding for her thesis, but new blood has since marred the halls. It was Alex's death, after all, that had Felicity pulled from Dalloway the first time around. It is Alex's ghost now that makes Felicity so nervous to return to finish  her senior year. But the girls who knew Felicity and Alex have long since graduated, and new girls have taken their places--like Ellis Haley, award-winning teenage author. Ellis is curious about Felicity's past--both in regards to her best friend Alex and the research Felicty was doing on the Dalloway Five, the original girls--witches?--who ruled the school before their grisly on-campus deaths. Being back on campus isn't good for Felicity's fragile health, tormented by too many ghosts, but Ellis is much more rational than that. Ellis knows no witches roamed campus. No ghost roam it now, and she's determined to prove to Felicity that all the deaths that happened here were purely rational, no occult forces involved. To prove this, they have to test out their murderous theories... for purely academic purposes. 


  • Literary Analysis: Wollstonecraft and Walden: anyone who has spent time in serious academia will sink right into the familiar cadence of this rhetoric. For an English literature major, this book is a lot of fun, and it goes to academic places that aren't usual in this (or any) marketing-age category. I'm not sure I buy this level of intellectual drive for a high school--even an elite preparatory school--but still, it is a lot of fun. It embraces the "academia" in "dark academia."
  • Twisted Tales: Victoria Lee does a really good job playing with the truth. As a reader, you can't be sure what happened in the past, both near and distant. The stories conflict. The narratives change. Witches and ghosts or gunshots in the forest: what happened to the Dalloway Five? And Alex: was it a climbing accident, a cut rope, or a drowning involving a drunken argument? The pieces are floating and inconsistent--exactly as they're meant to be. One can't be sure what's reality and what's something else entirely. 
  • Self-Awareness: This book is incredibly aware of how it is playing with genre conventions and expectations. The characters, deep in their studies of literary analysis, make remarks within the text that reflect back on their greater narrative. This book is incredibly meta and in the best way possible.


  • Academic Scorn: It was bothersome to me how much the academics presented in this book tried to steer Felicity away from what was, at first, a purely academic pursuit of witchcraft in literature. Sure, once she gets too enmeshed--once she has to leave and return to campus--it might be best to dissuade her from the topic. But the first time around, it doesn't seem reasonable to dissuade an academic pursuit, especially one having to do with the history of the campus itself. It just doesn't seem reasonable. That is, I didn't buy that this is how it would go down in reality.
  • Lax Supervision: It's for the story, right? This is always a problem in a boarding school book--when the boarding schools have to act more like college campuses in order for the plot to happen. And Victoria Lee acknowledges this--stating in the text that the parents pay the school for the academics and prestige, not to keep their girls innocent. I get that this is necessary. I get that parties have to happen, that the girls get to sneak out, sneak around, investigate graveyards in the middle of the night--as you do when at boarding school--et cetera. I get that. But what I didn't buy here was the smoking. There's such a negative connotation when it comes to smoking these days, especially when it comes to high schoolers smoking. And in a historic building that is, most likely, extremely flammable? I get that the teachers would turn a blind eye to the partying but not the smoking in the living room. It makes no sense to me. 
  • Pretentious Typists: This book is full of hipsters. What else can I say? They eschew smart phones--and even phones altogether. They prefer to type via typewriter despite the extra hassle it causes in an academic setting. They drink whiskey and discuss literary criticism late into the night. They're like the most pretentious of liberal arts students, and while some of it is fun, at other times, it is just annoying. 



Those who enjoyed the ghostly literary references of Kirsten Miller's Don't Tell a Soul will love this world of dark academia. Fans of Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige's The Ravens will sink into this particularly witchy new campus. 


Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date: August 3, 2021
Series: N/A

Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.


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