I went into this book was very different expectations than what came out of it. Dark academia is my favorite kinds of stories and I thought A Lesson in Vengeance had it in spades. There was an interesting and inclusive cast of characters, a big question mark around one Felicity, and a story that really caught me off guard at the end.
CW: mental abuse, physical abuse, animal death
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.
I’m not a huge fan of thrillers. Most of the time, I either figure out the murderer by the end or the ending is so convoluted that I end up throwing the book across the room. This time, I was totally thrown off guard. I was expecting one thing and it went in a completely different way that I didn’t even imagine. There were definitely clues to it throughout the story, but it just doesn’t hit until the truth comes out.
The setting of the book was my favorite; an old home with tons of history. I loved how generations of girls went there and most of them study literature. There’s a few references to some great horror books written by women while you read along. I also loved the whole underground “skull and crossbones” style coven that’s mainly for girls who come from affluent families. While I’m not a huge fan of books where everyone is super well off, super rich, and super entitled, I thought it was interesting with a character like Felicity who’s dealing with the loss of her best friend/girlfriend, Alex.
The plot itself moved slowly digging more deeply into Felicity’s psychosis rather than having her chase clues across campus to find out some truth. I loved the usage of witchcraft and its presence in young people’s lives. The school with the underground coven, the witchcraft practiced by the founders of the school, the tradition that’s passed on from generation to generation of students, and the stories that get passed down as well. It was interesting to see how steeped Felicity was in that reality; how she truly believed there was dark forces at the school, how the author makes you believe it too.
Ellis was so determined to prove that magic didn’t exist while you’re constantly reminded through Felicity that it does. There were moments in the book where I was so worried for Felicity because there was something about Ellis that you couldn’t put your finger on. You couldn’t tell if Ellis truly liked Felicity or if this was all a ploy to have Felicity play into Ellis’s hands. Because you’re reading the book through Felicity’s perspective, that’s the only perspective you get. You want to know more about Ellis and you think that there’s something going on there that you didn’t see before, but you only know as much as Felicity does. That unreliable narrator really made it more intriguing to figure out what’s really going on.
I thought it was interesting that all these characters were way beyond their years. They’re all supposed to be seniors in a private school, but they lived and acted way older. It surprised me the most to find out that Ellis was a 17-year-old Pulitzer Prize winning author who smoked cigarettes and drank bourbon while using a typewriter to write her stories. But there was still a level of naivete within all of them. They were still young in so many ways despite it. I wish the other characters, (Leona, Kajal, and Clara) were a bit more fleshed out. You get glimpses into their worlds and who they are, but then the plot reverts back to Felicity and Ellis’s relationship. I would have loved if their involvement in the story was a bit deeper.
The only things I didn’t like about this story was that it didn’t end with a paranormal trope. I was hoping for some ghosts to come out and stir things up or magical witches coming down to bring their vengeance, but they’re used in a different way than I imagined. I won’t go into it because it will definitely spoil the story.
Overall, it’s a spooky one with some atmospheric vibes, a lot of unanswered questions that get the most unique answers at the end. It’ll keep you reading and then it will slap you in the face.
I received a copy of A Lesson in Vengeance from the publisher. My opinions haven’t been influenced by the author or the publisher.