A Lesson in Vengeance is a Sapphic dark academia novel by Victoria Lee. Steeped in murder, occultism, and far-reaching malevolence, the dusty bookshelves and fall vibes within this book will nevertheless make for a cozy, grab-some-blankets-and-tea kind of read.
Prepare to be pulled right into Felicity Morrow’s haunting, unreliable point of view, and be bewitched by the secrets lurking in Dalloway School.
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.
“For once, the forest is empty of ghosts, the sky clear and glittering. Nothing evil can touch us like this. We’re dryads cavorting in autumn, wood spirits breathing out starlight . . . . this is it, the beginning of everything, the first page of our story.”–Felicity Morrow
First off, I have to give a shout-out to Lee’s gorgeous writing. The descriptions of Dalloway School alone made me want to pack my bags and spend hours browsing through the heavy tomes in Dalloway’s occult library.
In fact, the academic in me felt right at home with this book’s backdrop of intense reading lists, theses, and scholarly discussions of literary masterpieces. But what I loved most about A Lesson in Vengeance is the gothic, dark academia vibe that brought me right back to when I first read, and was forever haunted by, Wuthering Heights.
And can I just say the romance in this book was heartrending, alluring, and simply electrifying? The slow burn was so well done and satisfying.
I was also appreciative of Lee’s discerning depictions of psychotic depression, trauma, and complicated family dynamics. As usual, Lee approaches difficult topics with dauntlessness and prowess, forever evolving my understanding of others’ lived experiences and my own.
This book also dives deeply into conversations about witchcraft, female empowerment, and how being a complex human is often conflated with being hysterical or mad. I was rivetted by Lee’s depictions of young girls–in the past and now–whose lawless traipses into mysticism and tight-lipped sisterhood are always vilified by the patriarchy.
While I won’t say much about the villainy in this book, because the twists are so wild and good, suffice it to say that you’ll find this gothic ghost story haunting and horrifying in gutting, unexpected ways.
This book would have absolutely mesmerized and utterly consumed the closeted, gloom-obsessed teenager I was in high school. While I’m sad I didn’t have this book back then, I’m glad Sapphic, gothic, gorgeous books like this one are available now for everyone to enjoy!
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What should you read next?
For fans of dark, high school thrillers, I cannot recommend Ace of Spades highly enough. For witchy stories with lesbian representation, check out These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling, Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron, and The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl.