Witchcraft is woven into the Dalloway School’s history. The school doesn’t talk about it, but the students do. And most memorable of all is the Dalloway Five–five students who all died mysteriously one after another, who some say were witches.
Before her girlfriend’s tragic death, Felicity Morrow was drawn to the dark. But after a year away from Dalloway’s ivy-covered campus, she’s determined to leave all that behind her, focus on her senior thesis, and graduate. Only 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 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.
I got really caught up in this story. I do not handle actual horror very well, and A Lesson in Vengeance walked this line perfectly; just as creepy and horrifying as I could handle, although there were a few moments near the end that certainly crossed the line. By then, though, I was in too deep.
The question isn't whether magic is real. It's whether I can touch it without being consumed by it.
Two specific moments shattered the magic of this story and its hold on me. The first was a little red flag that I let slip because I thought it might be an attempt at a misdirect.
At 66%, Felicity asks Ellis to come to her room to see the copy of The Secret Garden that she found in her room, believing it to prove that Alex is haunting her. Ellis makes a half-assed excuse about it being the middle of the night and that she’ll check it out in the morning. Felicity is terrified; she’s shaking and freaking out, and Ellis can’t go to her room to check out this book because she’s tired? I can’t believe Felicity just accepts this and doesn’t start to question Ellis and her role in these events.
Regardless, I let it pass and kept reading. But the moment I hit 80%, everything clicked into place, ruining the vibe and making the last 20% completely predictable.
My mind is full of static, a roaring sound that drowns out all else. I open the book, half expecting to find another wilted hellebore bloom.
And there on the title page, in Alex’s handwriting, an inscription: I never told you that I love you, but it’s true. It was always true.
Those words….they’re my words, from the letter I wrote Alex a week after she died.
The letter that was buried in her empty casket.
I wonder… Is it possible the person who wanted to dig up Alex’s grave, who knew Felicity had written a letter and put it in the empty casket, who made a big deal about learning how to forge letters might be responsible? Sure, maybe Felicity is haunted by a ghost (I wanted Margery Lemont’s spirit to be behind all of this so bad). Unfortunately, it’s pretty obvious at this point that it’s probably the murder-obsessed person who has been way too nice to a (likely) insane stranger.
Fortunately for me, Quinn takes that moment to step in. “Mental illness in genre,” they say. “Are you more interested in accuracy of portrayal? Or the significance thereof?”
“Mostly how depictions of mental illness are used to build suspense by introducing uncertainty and a sense of mistrust, especially with regard to the narrator’s perception of events, and the conflation of magic and madness in female characters.”
Right up until 80%, I loved this book. It made me want to read more classics, get better at talking about literature, and learn more about tarot. I acknowledge that the girls are all a little pretentious, but what else would you expect from an elite boarding school for prominent (read: filthy stinking rich) families? The aesthetic, the witchy vibe, was delicious with covens, secret societies, magic, and ritual – I loved it all.