It is fair to say that I was hooked on dark academia way before I knew what it was called. My fascination probably kick-started when I decided to watch Kill Your Darlings back in 2014, or arguably a few months before that when I read A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. The truth is that I’ve always been drawn to decadence in storytelling—as I mentioned in my dark reads post—and dark academia does a great job of offering just that. Despite my love of it, I can’t say I have read that many dark academia books or watched that many films. It was just back in 2019 that I finally watched Dead Poets Society, and last year that I read THE dark academia book per excellence, Dona Tartt’s The Secret History. This comes as no surprise, considering that this genre/aesthetic saw a huge increase in popularity during the pandemic. During that time I also read If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio.
It is also worth noting that I’m very peculiar when it comes to classifying books as dark academia, and there are a few that people sometimes consider as such and I just don’t. For me, the necessary characteristics go beyond the academic setting and the moral deviance—although both are vital to the genre— and as such, I wouldn’t categorise books like The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater or The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde as dark academia. It’s more about a specific kind of feeling that they evoke, but that’s possibly just me thinking too deeply about it.
Whatever the case, my ever-growing love for this genre has led me to curate a list of dark academia books that I would love to read—something that I rarely do, I’m not the biggest fan of TBRs, as I mentioned here. So, without further ado, here are the books:
1. People Like Us by Dana Mele
I’ve been wanting to read this for way to long, and somehow I still haven’t got around to it. However, I know for sure that I’ll love it when I do, considering it’s a sapphic dark academia.
Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple.
2. The Atlas Six by Olivia Blake
Everyone talks wonders of this book, and it’s big diverse cast of characters is a selling point for me, so I must read it eventually.
The Alexandrian Society, caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity, are the foremost secret society of magical academicians in the world. Those who earn a place among the Alexandrians will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams, and each decade, only the six most uniquely talented magicians are selected to be considered for initiation. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated.
3. These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever
I’m not sure how I first came across this, but it’s made its way up to the top of the books I want to read. Simply looking at the cover gives me the right feeling that I will love it, so I hope it delivers.
When Paul and Julian meet as university freshmen in early 1970s Pittsburgh, they are immediately drawn to one another. A story about two college students, each with his own troubled past, whose escalating obsession with one another leads to an act of unspeakable violence.
4. Madam by Phoebe Wynne
I have to be truthful and admit I don’t know that much about this one, and that I was pulled in—once again—by the cover. The reviews are very mixed, but that doesn’t make me any less excited.
For 150 years, high above rocky Scottish cliffs, Caldonbrae Hall, a boarding school for girls, has sat untouched, a beacon of excellence in an old ancestral castle. Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie: a 26-year-old Classics teacher, Caldonbrae’s new head of the department, and the first hire for the school in over a decade. At first, Rose is overwhelmed to be invited into this institution, whose prestige is unrivaled. But she quickly discovers that behind the school’s elitist veneer lies an impenetrable, starkly traditional culture that she struggles to reconcile with her modernist beliefs—not to mention her commitment to educating “girls for the future.”
5. Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
I’ve previously loved dual timeline books, and this one sounds right up my alley, so I can’t wait to read it. This is one that I’ve seen around quite a bit, so I have high expectations.
The Plain Bad Heroine Society meet in secret in a nearby apple orchard, the setting of their wildest happiness and, ultimately, of their macabre deaths. This is where their bodies are later discovered with a copy of Mary MacLane’s book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. Less than five years later, The Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever—but not before three more people mysteriously die on the property, each in a most troubling way. But as a century Brookhants opens its gates once again to make a horror film based on these events past and present become grimly entangled and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.
6. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo’s books have been a hit or miss for me. However, this one sounds very interesting and like something I would enjoy. I did start it but had to put it aside, so I look forward to jumping back into it.
Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
7. How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao
I’ve said it time and time again, this is one of my most anticipated reads of the year. There are only a few days left until it comes out, so I’m very excited.
Nancy Luo is shocked when her former best friend, Jamie Ruan, top ranked junior at Sinclair Prep, goes missing, and then is found dead. Nancy is even more shocked when word starts to spread that she and her friends—Krystal, Akil, and Alexander—are the prime suspects, thanks to “The Proctor,” someone anonymously incriminating them via the school’s social media app. The four must uncover the true killer before The Proctor exposes more than they can bear and costs them more than they can afford, like Nancy’s full scholarship.
8. A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
Birdie @ Birdie’s Booktopia said this was a sapphic dark academia and I was immediately interested. I simply can’t imagine sweeter words to describe a book.
Felicity Morrow is back at Dalloway School. Perched in the Catskill mountains, the centuries-old, ivy-covered campus was home until the tragic death of her girlfriend. Now, after a year away, she’s returned to graduate. 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. The Dalloway Five all died mysteriously, one after another, right on Godwin grounds.
9. Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Another book I’ve heard nothing but good things about. The stunning cover was what initially drew me in, but after reading the synopsis I know for sure I want to read it.
Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students’ dark secrets to light. Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can’t escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn’t afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power.
10. Babel by R.F. Kuang
This is not set to come out until next year, but I’m already highly anticipating it. An exploration of translation as a colonialist tool is genuinely one of the most interesting topics I can imagine.
Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel—the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working—inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?
11. Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
One of the first books I came across while I was researching dark academia after finishing The Secret History. Once again, the creepiness of being isolated mixed with the elitism of a boarding school sounds fantastic.
Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other, hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises its graduates a future of sublime power and prestige, and that they can become anything or anyone they desire. A story about a dangerously curious young undergraduate whose rebelliousness leads her to discover a shocking secret involving an exclusive circle of students . . . and the dark truth beneath her school’s promise of prestige.
12. The Ivies by Alexa Donne
I first came across this book on youtube—I can’t remember on whose channel—and I was immediately intrigued, so I had to add it to my list. What is it about privileged rich kids committing crimes that is so interesting?
Everyone knows the Ivies: the most coveted universities in the United States. Far more important are the Ivies. The Ivies at Claflin Academy, that is. Five girls with the same mission: to get into the Ivy League by any means necessary. I would know. I’m one of them. We disrupt class ranks, club leaderships, and academic competitions…among other things. We improve our own odds by decreasing the fortunes of others. Because hyper-elite competitive college admissions is serious business. And in some cases, it’s deadly.
What are your thoughts on dark academia? Have you read any of this books? Do you have any other recommendations?