A review by allisonwonderlandreads
A Lesson in Vengeance, by Victoria Lee

dark sad slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


In this ya thriller, Felicity arrives at Dalloway, a private girls' boarding school with a dark history, for a second chance at her senior year. She returns from her mental sabbatical to her same room, but all her friends have graduated and her girlfriend is dead. As she faces the rumor mill and her own fears from the night Alex died, she falls into orbit around a prodigy writer, Ellis.

This thriller just wasn't a good fit for me. First, the relationships are sapped of any altruism. Felicity has an absent, rich mother, a cruel, dead girlfriend, and faces manipulation, gaslighting, and fear of being outed as a lesbian while grappling with her psychotic depression. Everything is toxic.

In terms of characters, Ellis especially pissed me off from almost the start. She uses her semi-celebrity status and charisma to pressure everyone around her into getting her way, even when the others push back or bubble over with doubts. While much of my energy was devoted to the anti-Ellis train, I didn't develop equally strong positive connections with the other characters, even the protagonist. Felicity's motivations were always murky to me, and while I think this was a tactic to keep her secrets safely hidden until the right moment, it left me detached from her in the (lengthy) interim.

It's also one of those thrillers where I spent the whole time asking: but WHY would you do that? Also, please don't do that. It lacked the spookiness of supernatural thrillers and the visceral tension caused by more human threats, though the story plays with elements of both. It's a very slow build. By the time things kicked off right at the end, I was hanging on out of a need to know the outcome for a fully informed review, not any sense of excitement.

So what might someone else like about this book? Mental health and queer representation are central to the story, although both feature difficult journeys and toxic situations. If you like a literary intelligentsia or witchy vibe, I think you will enjoy the atmosphere and references here.

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