Book Review | A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

Spine-tingling. Dark academia. Murder. Psychological thriller. A Secret History but make it witchy. Lots of layers packed in this one.

A Lesson in Vengeance

More about A Lesson in Vengeance: 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.

My thoughts

This has been a tough book review to write. I’ve composed three drafts of this post, and after deleting them, I’ve decided to just get it out and press on.

I will say that I did enjoy reading this book. I remember closing it thinking, “Wow! OK. I liked it.” But as time goes on, I am ruminating on things that I didn’t like about it — and they outweigh the very few elements that I did enjoy.

What I liked:

  • The subtle dark, witchy vibes.
  • The atmospheric setting: Intelligent girls at an all-girls boarding school in New England.
  • The twisted characters. Very. Twisted.
  • The author’s deep dive into the psychosis of the main character.
  • The ending (even though it was disturbing).

What I did not like:

  • The “too-muchness” of it all. I know it’s not an eloquent way to describe it, but honestly, this book was all over the place when it came to genres. If you are expecting to read a Gothic-like contemporary horror book, then you will close it disappointed. It went from coven-inspired, dark academic vibes to murder mystery/thriller/psychological thriller in an instant, and it left me (and a few other readers I talked to) feeling jumbled.
  • The author’s inconsistent narration. Felicity is an intelligent young woman. She is a senior in high school writing her thesis on horror lit and female representation (an interest of mine). So, clearly she’s bookish and uses impressive vocabulary. But, her vocabulary was too much during many moments of her narration. She went from “looking for libations” at a high school party (who even says that when you are 17? Or ever?) to everyday teenage colloquialisms. I found myself rolling my eyes a lot during this book.
  • The lack of uncanny and paranormal, particularly by the end. We don’t wrap up the Dalloway Five or any of the witchy elements.

I also realized, very quickly upon finishing, that this book is very similar to A Secret History by Donna Tartt — from the plot to the writing. I read that book last month and I refuse to write a review about it because I disliked it so much.

One of my biggest qualms about Tartt’s writing is what I refer to as the “writer’s flex.” We get it, you are smart. Do you need to use unnecessary vocabulary and showcase your knowledge about the Classics every page? No. You just come off as pretentious.

That’s the same vibe I got from Lee’s book, whose plot does not stray far from Tartt’s in A Secret History … except there are witches and an all-girls school. I get art imitates art, but I shouldn’t be thinking “I just read this book” while reading a new novel. There’s even an Bacchus in …Vengeance, which was a big scene in A Secret History. After reading that Lee is a big fan of Donna Tartt, I had my “AHA!” moment, and wish that the author had a little more ingenuity with this book.

Well, I got it out. It’s done.

Did you read A Lesson in Vengeance? What were your thoughts?

An interview with Ruth Ware

Hey, book nerds! I have super exciting news! A few weeks ago, I wrote a post where I ranked Ruth Ware’s novels. For those who don’t know Ruth Ware, she is an incredible British novelist who writes thrilling psychological mysteries. Since I read her first book, The Woman in Cabin 10, I have been hooked! So, I decided to take a risk and reach out and ask for an interview. Why not, right? After a few weeks, I was able to ask her a few questions and learn more about her journey as an author, her characters, and what books she is reading! Check it out!

1) Your books are centered on strong, female protagonists. What made you decide to write about strong, female characters in this specific genre?

I don’t think it’s something I consciously decided to do – and I don’t think my main characters are particularly strong in fact. They are stronger than they know, but they also have all the same fears and anxieties as the rest of us. Like most people, they’re capable of more than they realise when they’re pushed. I think my goal is just to write about realistic people – so far that’s generally been women in the main role, probably because I know more about what it’s like to be a woman.

2) As an aspiring writer, I always ask authors about their writing rituals. Do you have your own “space?” Do you have a prescribed set of practices that you follow?

I have a little study but I’m not particularly precious about where I write – except that I have a bad back, so it has to have a proper, adjustable chair and a desk at the right height. Aside from that, my only routine is to switch the computer on and start typing. I don’t need special music or anything to get me in the right mood.

3) What books are on your nightstand, and why?

A huge stack – everything from Patrick O’Brian, to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, plus a bunch of proofs I’ve been sent in the post. The one on top is What Would Boudicca Do? (Published as What Would Cleopatra Do? in America) which is fun for dipping in and out of as it’s short vignettes about interesting women. I never have less than about ten or twelve books stacked up at any one time. They’re a mix of things I’ve recently read, things I’m in the process of reading, and things I’m intending to get to.

4) What have you learned about being an author after you published your first book? How has that changed your writing style and process?

I suppose the main thing that has changed is that it’s now a job – I have to write whether I want to or not, and I try as far as possible to treat it like a job – I have office hours, and I turn off my writing computer at night and in the evenings. I don’t know if that was something I learned exactly. I had worked around books for years before becoming published so not much about the actual publishing process was a surprise to me.

5) So far, who is your favorite protagonist and why?

I don’t think I can answer this – it’s like being asked which of my kids is my favourite! I love them all for different reasons.


A big thanks to Ruth’s publicists (in the UK and US) for making this happen. And, a big thanks to Ruth for not only her insightful answers but for sharing her talent with the world! Hope you all enjoyed reading!