Have we all established by now that Victoria Lee is an auto-buy author for me? Yes? Good. A Lesson in Vengeance is one of my most anticipated 2021 releases. And it was phenomenal. Keep reading this book review to see my screaming!
Felicity Morrow is back at Dalloway School.
Perched in the Catskill mountains, the centuries-old, ivy-covered campus was home until the tragic death of her girlfriend. Now, after a year away, she’s returned to graduate. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students—girls some say were witches. The Dalloway Five all died mysteriously, one after another, right on Godwin grounds.
Witchcraft is woven into Dalloway’s history. The school doesn’t talk about it, but the students do. In secret rooms and shadowy corners, girls convene. And before her girlfriend died, Felicity was drawn to the dark. She’s determined to leave that behind her now; all Felicity wants is to focus on her senior thesis and graduate. But it’s hard when Dalloway’s occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget.
It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway, and she’s already amassed a loyal following. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is a so-called “method writer.” She’s eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks Felicity for help researching the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no. Given her history with the arcane, Felicity is the perfect resource.
And when history begins to repeat itself, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway–and in herself.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: (from Lee’s website) Death, Violence, Manipulation and emotional abuse, Child neglect (past/offscreen), Mental health issues, Substance abuse, Suicide references (no actual suicide), References to racist history at a PWI
A Lesson in Vengeance should be a study in unreliable narrators and suspense. The setting comes alive from the beginning, like seeing a room with worn cushions and feeling instantly both at home and on edge. For me, it was an almost instantaneous love affair with A Lesson in Vengeance. I am always a fan of a fellow book nerd paired with the fact that I had such a huge brain crush on both Ellis and Felicity. I love me a big brain.
Lee slowly establishes this line of unreliability drawn in mirror fog, swirling sand, and on chalkboards. It’s told in those ways where not even the characters can see the obscured footprints, the subtle whispers of breath on the back of their neck. A Lesson in Vengeance almost feels like you’re watching one’s descent into the darkness, into an eerie wood at twilight. That or seeing the tendrils of water and wind forming the eye of a storm.
At the same time, besides the fantastic (un)raveling of the Felicity, Lee is able to generate this electric vibe. To so thoroughly embody this space which exists between reality and potential fiction. The space of possibility that would never survive in the sunlight, where you aren’t sure about the noise at night or the rumors you hear about ruins. A Lesson in Vengeance delivers atmosphere, but also a game of manipulation and toeing that line between the ground beneath our feet and the wind beneath our fingers.
Between caresses we feel when we aren’t looking and splashes of cold water in sinking shoes. There’s an almost luxurious quality to the writing and while it begins with a slower pace than you might be expecting, it delivers a crescendo.
Lee explores how it feels for someone to push through your limits and the convince you that you were willingly there. And the intoxicating power of being seen. There are so many layers of thrills, the line between truth and reality. If you love the idea of sapphic dark academia, of emotional manipulation and questions, and of the past never really being dead, then A Lesson in Vengeance is for you.
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