A Lesson in Vengeance, Victoria Lee’s new boarding school young adult novel, is an eerie, absorbing thriller about ghosts, history, and mental illness.
The Fever King author dives into the world of dark academia in A Lesson in Vengeance, set at Dalloway School, an isolated girls’ boarding school in the Catskills. Protagonist Felicity Morrow, returning to Dalloway after a year away, is haunted. By what? A few things, but mostly her ex-girlfriend Alex, who died in a tragic accident that Felicity witnessed, causing her to leave for a stint in a psychiatric hospital. Unless it wasn’t an accident. Back at the boarding house where she lived with Alex, Felicity is convinced that her dead ex is haunting her. Still, determined to put the past behind her and graduate, Felicity throws herself into research for her thesis.
Felicity has always had a fascination with the Dalloway Five—a group of five girls who died on the school grounds hundreds of years earlier under mysterious circumstances. At school, she discovers a new student shares her fascination. Ellis Haley, a 17-year-old Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist, has come to Dalloway to write her second book about the Dalloway Five. Other students gravitate to Ellis, but Felicity is suspicious of the prodigy.
Ellis calls herself a “method writer,” and she wants to live the events she writes about. How far will she go in writing a book about murder? Despite herself, Felicity finds herself connecting with Ellis. Ellis understands Felicity more than anyone else at Dalloway School—but she might also draw Felicity back into the darkness she’s been trying to escape.
Lee does an excellent job of capturing the mood of her setting and characters. As in any dark academia book worth its salt, the characters in A Lesson in Vengeance are uber-pretentious. They drink bourbon, talk like they’re forty-five, and dress like they’re eighty. In real life, they would probably be insufferable; in-book, your mileage may vary, but I had a great time spending time with them.
This is a genre that either clicks for you or it doesn’t—you probably shouldn’t read this if you couldn’t stand The Secret History, for instance—but Lee is clearly at home writing this kind of story. Felicity is questionably reliable as a narrator, but she’s always entertaining. A Lesson in Vengeance follows genre conventions, but finds time to poke fun at them as well. It’s worth reading all the way to the ending, somehow chilling and hopeful at once.
A Lesson in Vengeance was released on August 3, 2021.