Monday 14 February 2022

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Review: A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee (#Ad)

A photo of A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee on a tablet taken from above. The tablet is half on a navy blue scarf with metalic silver stars on it in the top right of the photo, and half on a light grey, fluffy duvet inn the bottom left. The tablet is on a diagonal, with the top of the tablet facing the top right corner, and the bottom facing the top right corner. Around the top right corner of the tablet, a number of tarot cards are fanned, showing the white and pale blue design on the backs of the Modern Witch Tarot Deck cards. To the top left of the tablet is a protection spell jar. Below the spell is the Nine of Swords tarot  card from the Modern Witch Tarot Deck. Along the bottom of the the tablet are some cloves, a black tourmaline crystal, and some star anise. To the bottom right of the tablet is a medium sized pillar candle.

I was received this eProof for free from Titan Books via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review.

Links with an asterisk (*) are Ad: Affiliate Links, which means if you make a purchase through them, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

Published: 22nd February 2022 | Publisher: Titan Books | Source: NetGalley
Victoria Lee’s Website

If We Were Villains meets The Craft in this page-turning LGBT dark academia thriller.

Felicity Morrow is back at the Dalloway School to finish her senior year after the tragic death of her girlfriend. 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.

Felicity was once drawn to the dark legacy of witchcraft. She's determined to leave that behind her now; but it's hard when Dalloway's occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget it.

It's Ellis Haley's first year at Dalloway. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is 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. And when history begins to repeat itself, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway―and in herself.

And when history begins to repeat itself, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway–and in herself.
From Goodreads.

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A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee was one of my most highly anticipated novels of the year, but while I thoroughly enjoyed it in the end, I had mixed feelings as I was reading. But having finished the book, it really was fantastic!

What I want to start off saying is that this isn't fantasy or horror, or an amalgamation of the two. I came for the witches and the ghosts and the mysterious historic deaths, when they're actually not the real focus of the story at all. They play a part, but they're not what this story is about. It's about obsession, ambition, mental illness, and toxic relationships. This is contemporary, and it's a thriller. The description above compares A Lesson in Vengeance with The Craft, which just isn't right at all. What I'm about to say next kind of crosses into spoiler territory, so I'm putting it under a spoiler button. But you should know that what I discuss is that there's something I think readers should know before they even start the story. In my opinion, you should read the below, but I leave the choice up to you.

Saying all that, I did really enjoy it! The history of the Dalloway Five and Dalloway School's occult past, though secondary, was really fascinating, and I can completely understand Felicity's interest. A school where there may have been witches? I definitely would have wanted to attend! And with the school having a secret society coven, whose real purpose is to create connections between wealthy society people who can help each other out in the future, with it's rituals, you can understand Felicity's growing attraction to all things occult. She dabbles in real witchcraft (as opposed to the fantasy kind) herself, with crystals and candles, herbs and tarot cards, and while it's only a small part of the story, as someone who practices witchcraft, I appreciated it's inclusion, and the obvious research that went into it. But Felicity's attraction didn't last, as she believes it's related to her girlfriend Alex's death in an accident last year. Felicity and Alex performed a seance with a spirit board in order to contact the spirit of Margery Lemont, the daughter of the school's founder and the leader of the coven back then, who was buried alive. But Alex shut it down when Felicity started freaking out, and the seance wasn't closed properly. Felicity believes Margery Lemont's spirit wasn't released, and as such, killed Alex. That's the history. Felicity is now back at Dalloway School to retake her senior year, after her grief over Alex's death and her fear over Margery meant she needed to be hospitalised in a mental health facility. She is adamant she will turn her back on everything to do with magic and occult, because of what it does to her, but it won't seem to let her out of it's grasp. And Ellis Haley, Pulitzer prize winning teenage author, who has started at the school, is writing a new novel based on the Dalloway Five, and wants Felicity's help to because of her knowledge.

And so starts the relationship that is key to the story. Despite still grieving for Alex, and the guilt she feels over her death, Felicity is drawn to Ellis for reasons she can't quite explain. It goes beyond ordinary attraction. There is a pull she can't ignore, even though she doesn't even really like her at first. I didn't warm to Ellis at all. Initially, I thought she was standoffish, aloof and superior. As the story progressed, we see she can be really rude and selfish; she was the prodigy author and must be the center of attention, while also trying to appear above it all. Other students follow in her wake, starstruck by her celebrity, and Ellis uses this to her advantage, subtly controlling and influencing people. It's ordinary dick behaviour, but she's not like that all the time, not with Felicity. Even so, I felt there was something off about her. She made me feel uncomfortable, and the more I read, the more and more concerned I became. But as before, prior to Alex's death, Felicity gets in too deep, can't see the wood for the trees, and clings to Ellis like she's the only thing keeping her head above water.

While still not entirely sure what was going on, I became angry. There were some things I was certain about, and one was that Felicity and Ellis' relationship was toxic. Ellis' behaviour becomes increasingly questionable and shocking, and I was desperate for someone to see, someone to help. The tension grows, and it was just so uncomfortable to read. But it was like a car crash, I couldn't look away. I had to know what would happen next, where exactly this story would lead, though I couldn't imagine it would be anything good.

The last twenty percent of the book was truly epic, and hit me like a sucker punch. There was twist after twist, and the story got so much darker than I was ever expecting! It left my jaw on the floor, and I couldn't believe what I was reading. It was horrifying, but also incredible storytelling. When you look back over the story, you can see the subtle hints, the markers of the direction the story was heading in. It blew my mind, and I was left feeling completely unmoored, and wondering what the hell I just read. Honestly, it's the kind of story I know I will be thinking about for a very long time, that has left me with a deliciously unsettling feeling. While the stories themselves are nothing alike, I am reminded very much of how Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth left me feeling, awestruck and stunned, and the undeniable knowledge that I has just read something incredible. I am absolutely positive this is going to be a contender for one of my favourite reads of the year.

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