About the Book

Title: A Lesson in Vengeance
Published: 2021
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Cover Story: Hell(ebore) Yeah!
BFF Charm: Hell(ebore) No!
Talky Talk:
Dark Academia
Bonus Factors: Witches, Boarding Schools
Relationship Status:

Cover Story: Hell(ebore) Yeah!

Beautiful and spooky! Hellebores are one of my favorite plants, they’re so goth. When reading out the symbolism of these flowers, I found this:

While this plant has a reputation for purging insanity from people, it’s not a safe choice for healing mental health issues.


And whew boy, that’s on point for this book.

The Deal:

Felicity Morrow is beginning her senior year at Dalloway School….again. Her first attempt at a senior year ended in tragedy, with Felicity taking a year off to recover. But now she’s back in her old dorm, Godwin House, the oldest building on an ivy-covered campus – one that Emily Dickinson once stayed in. Now, Godwin House plays home to Dalloway’s English students and the rumored spirits of the Dalloway Five, a group of witches who all died under mysterious circumstances.

During her previous years at Dalloway, Felicity had belonged to a similar coven, but now she’s been banished from the group. With no friends, she finds herself drawn to her other roommates at Godwin House and their ringleader, Ellis Haley, the 17-year-old prodigy “method writer” whose debut novel won a Pulitzer. As Felicity and Ellis grow closer, they strike a deal: they will “recreate” the murders of the Dalloway Five as research for Felicity’s senior thesis and for Ellis’ next book.

But soon, history begins to repeat itself, and Felicity finds herself caught up in another scandal tying her to the occult.

BFF Charm: Hell(ebore) No!

Hell No BFF Charm in Flames

This Hell No BFF charm is hereby presented to Felicity Morrow in the best possible way. Do I want to be her friend? Absolutely not. But did I *like* her? Actually, yeah. Felicity is a majorly unreliable narrator. Something horrible happened to her girlfriend the last time she was at Dalloway, but the reader isn’t entirely sure what, and Felicity isn’t very forthcoming. Did Alex die by accident? Or was she murdered? Did Felicity do it? On purpose or by accident? Is Alex even really dead? Felicity isn’t telling – either because her trauma is blocking the memory or Felicity is controlling the narrative.

Despite that, Felicity is crazy smart and has a wry sense of humor that I liked. She’s drawn to the darkness, even when she tries to separate herself from it. But giving in to that dark pull makes Felicity all the more interesting.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Ellis Haley had some serious Donna Tartt vibes happening: short, blunt black hair, power suits, gloves, whiskey decanters. Plus, there’s that whole winning-a-Pulitzer-at-17 thing. Cool doesn’t even begin to describe her, and it’s no wonder the girls at Dalloway are obsessed with her. As Felicity and Ellis grow closer, things slowly develop from friends to more-than, and with that comes all the hallmarks of swoon. But no matter how hot and heavy things got, I was always a little distrustful of Ellis. I mean, I was distrustful of EVERYONE in this book, and Ellis was included in that, so it was hard for me to really feel the swoon between them.

Talky Talk: Dark Academia

I feel like the phrase “Dark Academia” gets thrown around a lot these days to describe any slightly spooky story in a boarding school setting. But A Lesson in Vengeance EMBODIES the term. This book is dark – really dark – twisty, atmospheric, and lush. The characters are highbrow academics, many of whom struggle with mental illness and unhealthy obsessions, and the whole story has a homoerotic undercurrent that’s a staple of the genre.

When her characters were in academic mode, Lee didn’t shy away from letting them show off those high IQs.

If the ritual account of Flora’s death was true, it had been clearly Druidic in inspiration: some bastardization of Greco-Roman reports that the ancient Celts performed human sacrifice at the autumnal equinox—that the future could be read in the way the victim’s limbs convulsed as they died. Even the way in which the sacrifice bled had prognostic value.

But in its less cerebral moments, A Lesson In Vengeance was a beautifully crafted, creepy mystery filled with unreliable characters and gorgeous writing.

The darkness lends a sense of intimacy, of import. We move through it like specters, silent—we become part of Godwin House, sprouted from the uneven floor and shadowed corners, descendants and daughters of witches who died centuries ago.

Bonus Factor: Witches

girl wearing black in a pointy witch hat

Witches, covens, seances, oh my! This book overfloweth with the occult. Like worshipping the skull of a dead teen witch occult.

Bonus Factor: Boarding School

Regal old boarding school building with turrets and ivy on the stone walls

Oh man, what I wouldn’t give to have been a student at Dalloway School. Creepy New England vibes, a ton of history, students sorted into houses by concentration, COVENS AND MURDERS.

Relationship Status: Covenmates

I love a YA book that doesn’t talk down to its readers, and while some might describe this book as pretentious, I think that pretension is the name of the game at Dalloway School. Lee’s prose is hauntingly beautiful, her characters darkly complex, and her narrator delightfully unreliable. An undercurrent of distrust runs throughout the story – distrust for Felicity, but also distrust for everyone around Felicity. A perfect kick-off to spooky season.

Literary Matchmaking

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart may have less murder, but it is chock full of boarding school secret societies!

People Like Us

For more sapphic dark academia with a murder mystery and an unreliable narrator, check out Dana Mele’s People Like Us.

We Were Liars

The way Felicity was, um, unclear on what happened to her friend reminded me of Cadence, the main character in E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars.

FTC Full Disclosure: I did not receive money or Girl Scout cookies of any kind (not even the gross cranberry ones) for writing this review. A Lesson in Vengeance is available now.

Rosemary lives in Little Rock, AR with her husband and cocker spaniel. At 16, she plucked a copy of Sloppy Firsts off the "New Releases" shelf and hasn't stopped reading YA since. She is a brand designer who loves tiki drinks, her mid-century modern house, and obsessive Google mapping.