A Lesson in Vengeance
September 26, 2021

Book Review

A Lesson in Vengeance

reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo



“The Girl became a crow, the crow became bones, bones became dust. I wonder now if such curses are bestowed only upon the wicked.” Ellis Haley, Night Bird

Whatever you think A Lesson in Vengeance is about, you are most likely wrong. Victoria Lee has written a fantastic and creepy novel about dark academia and the secrets we keep.  This novel takes place at Dalloway, an elite, all-girls boarding school founded by a survivor of the Salem witch trials. There is a very dark and complicated history of the infamous school, including 5 students (suspected witches) who murdered another student and then were each brutally murdered in the 1700s.  We meet Felicity Morrow (who is repeating her senior year following the mysterious death of her girlfriend) and prodigy novelist Ellis Haley (who is starting her first year at Dalloway). Together, they are two of the five girls that live in the coveted Goodwin dorm.

All of Felicity’s classmates have graduated, and she has four new housemates, including the mysterious and enigmatic Ellis. Ellis is a legend. A 17yo girl who has already won the Pulitzer Prize for her debut novel. While Felicity’s other three roommates are enamored with Ellis, Felicity takes a while to trust her. The girls at Dalloway are mature, wear suits and dresses daily, drink bourbon and smoke. They are not your typical group of students. They rebuff modern society, eschew cell phones, social media and computers, choosing instead to talk to one another and use typewriters to turn in assignments.

Felicity, our main character, is an unreliable narrator at best. The reader is never really sure if her memories are real or imagined, especially concerning Alex, her girlfriend who fell into a river and drowned. Or did she fall off a cliff while they were mountain climbing? Or was she put under a spell by one of the witches from the 1700s? Maybe since they have not found a body, perhaps she survived the fall into the river. But when Ellis arrives, she becomes obsessed with Felicity. Ellis is writing a book about the Dalloway witches and would like to re-enact the murders. While Felicity has sworn off her own witchcraft, she agrees to help Ellis with her book. From there they create the Night Migrations, and include their roommates in practicing witchcraft, night dances and more. Felicity is convinced that Alex, her former girlfriend, is haunting her, so while Felicity wants to prove this, Ellis is equally determined to disprove this and all witchcraft. 

While A Lesson in Vengeance is considered YA, this is not a young adult novel. Victoria Lee has done an amazing job creating a tense and spooky atmosphere at Dalloway school. This entire book feels a dream bordering on a nightmare. The reader becomes immersed in the culture of this school. Because of the unreliability of our narrator, we were never sure of what was real or imaginary. The descriptions of the desolation around the school make it even creepier. This novel is dark and contains certain content that may trigger some, including: animal sacrifice, death, depression, paranoia, hospitalization, child neglect, PTSD, murder, and substance abuse.

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