Dark, Queer, and Twisted

A book review of a gaunt and warped novel that stands out amongst other literature of its kind.


Charlotte Van Haren

The elegant and eye-catching cover of the novel.

*This article contains spoilers for the novel A Lesson in Vengeance

Picture this.  You’re a young woman, sent by your wealthy parents to a gaunt and haunted boarding school in the forested hills of New England. Secret societies are abundant, and technology is thrown out the window. You spend your days as an academic, researching your thesis, getting tarot readings, and researching the ancient deaths of past students.

A Lesson In Vengeance by Victoria Lee is a full embodiment of the dark academia aesthetic, which makes it such an enjoyable read. (For context, I finished it in less than 24 hours. It was that good.)

The girls are always clutching cigarettes, dressing in tweed, and lighting candles to illuminate the room. It’s a budding environment that allows the reader to envision the novel in a timeless manner. 

Underneath the academic school, is a web of competition and secret societies. Girls spill their blood over skulls, swear themselves as witches, and are then haunted by their past. Some only see it as a game, and others, like main character Felicity, realize just how real it all is. 

With them doused in this aesthetic, there is still a clear portrayal of them as modern teenagers. Some of them have cell phones, their hobbies are modernized, and their parties, surely, haven’t changed from typical teenagers. With this aspect fitted in, the style and tone of the school isn’t seen as unrealistic. They are still modern teenagers; they are just also academics.

Along with the gorgeous setting and mood, there is a heartwarming romance between Felicity and her fellow house-mate Ellis. As Ellis joins the school to write her second novel, she ropes Felicity into helping her, and this leads to them being nearly inseparable.

But I want to find a loose thread on the collar of her shirt and tug. I want to unravel her.

— A Lesson in Vengeance

This kind of connection is hard to find in literature. A pure lesbian romance that isn’t between minor characters nor is fetishized in any way. It’s a great thing to read, and it really made me happy to see it treated just like any other romance.

Felicity and Ellis find connection in their shared love of academics, love of the school, and their relation of their pasts. As they research for Ellis’s novel, Felicity sees that Ellis is the only one that doesn’t think she’s crazy for what happened to her in the previous school year. For Ellis, Felicity is the only one who doesn’t ogle over her achievements.

Just like any romance, it’s lovely to read and see how they connect. They comfort each other, understand each other, and. . .


…Seriously, leave. It’s a huge twist.

They try to kill each other.

Yeah. I know.

I was so happy. They are falling in love and school is going great. All up until Ellis, who is writing about a murderer, decides that the only way she could write the book is to kill someone herself. 

And I thought I was reading a book about happily-ever-after lesbians.

Nevertheless, I loved the book. The constant twists at the end kept me hooked. I read the book in less than 24 hours. It’s a treasure in my collection next to Last Night at the Telegraph Club and my Emily Dickinson Poetry. I couldn’t believe what was happening in the end, and it’s left me stunned ever since I put it away on my shelf.

Truly a masterpiece from the aesthetic of it all to the jarring ending, and I loved it.