I’m here today to discuss some of my favourite dark academia novels and give some recommendations too!
a short discussion on dark academia
Dark academia is a sub-genre that has become incredibly popular in the past few years. This sub-genre usually falls within the thriller genre. It is, typically, books with a school/academic setting where things take a turn for the worst. These books usually involve murder and mystery, and showing just how terrible academia can be and how knowledge can corrupt.
However, there’s not a set definition on what dark academia really is. If you go into what is shelved as “dark academia” on goodreads, you’ll be surprised to see the selection of books there – or at least, I was. Why are books like The Great Gatsby or Jane Eyre shelved in this section? Because some of us had to read it for academia?
For myself, I would define the genre as thriller/mystery novels predominantly set in an academic setting, in which the backdrop is important to the plot. So, you won’t be seeing books like The Raven Boys in this post – because as much as I absolutely love that book, maybe only 25% of the book is actually set or related to Aglionby Academy.
I obviously don’t have any ownership or domain on what makes a novel fit into the ‘dark academia’ category so take whatever I say with a pinch of salt !
★ the secret history ★
↠ short synopsis: ↠Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last—inexorably—into evil.
thoughts: Published in 1992, The Secret History remains to be an incredibly well known dark academia novel that people still read. The book follows Richard Papen, a student who studies Ancient Greek alongside a group of his elusive and charismatic peers. It starts off with telling the audience about the death of his peer Bunny, then reflects on the moments that lead up to this. Its’ slow pace gave way to the character development and tension in this novel as things fell apart for all the characters.
✨ reads on to read it: ✨
At its core, The Secret History shows the darkness in academia in showing how obsession (with Ancient Greek of all things) can take a turn for the worst. And, when I say dark I do mean dark – it explores some really intense themes of murder and blackmail. It’s altogether an intense read with beautiful writing.
★ if we were villains ★
↠ short synopsis: ↠Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by Detective Colborne, who wants to know what really happened a decade ago.
As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off – but when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.
thoughts: If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, you’ll love this book. And, even if you’re not, if you like the dark academia genre you’ll still enjoy it. While TSH focused on the obsession with Classics, IWWV does this with acting and Shakespeare’s works. The main characters are in their senior year where the focus of study and performances are tragedies. Add this with the fact that the teaching faculty has decided to switch things up with the types of people our characters play – it all culminates in some real bloody tragedies.
✨ reasons to read it: ✨
IWWV takes method acting and love of theatre to a whole new level, making it a fantastic frightening novel. It really shows the intense love that these characters have for acting and for Shakespeare when you see how enraptured they become in their roles – it results in absolute mayhem, making for a wonderful read.
And the foreshadowing for this book is absolutely wonderful and makes for a great re-read.
★ ace of spades★
It would be completely ignorant to say that academia is without any systematic flaws that deliberately hinder marginalised students. It makes me so appreciative that there are novels out there that explore this, while also injecting some fun thriller aspects into them.
↠ short synopsis: ↠Welcome to Niveus Academy, a prestige academy where two students are suddenly being plagued by texts from the anonymous Aces, threatening to release all of their secrets.
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.
Someone is out to get them both. Someone who holds all the aces. And they’re planning much more than a high-school game…
thoughts: Ace of Spades quickly became one of my favourite novels in not only the dark academia genre but as a thriller novel overall. Devon and Chiamaka are singled out in their school by the anonymous person revealing all of their secrets, while their white peers look on and do nothing to help. It’s a harrowing novel and a thrilling read, and it had me so stressed for the last 1/3 of the novel.
✨ reasons to read it: ✨
It is no surprise that academics is dominated by White people, and that people of colour (and especially Black people) are marginalised in academia and kept from the same opportunities as their White peers. In Ace of Spades, you can truly see that.
Our main characters Chiamaka and Devon are from different class backgrounds – Devon being working-class and on a scholarship, while Chiamaka is from an upper-middle-class background and wealthy – yet they both experience racism in their school and feel hardships. It’s a fantastic thriller that touches on a lot of important topics.
★ as i descended ★
↠ short synopsis: ↠Maria and Lily are their school’s ultimate power couple at the exclusive Acheron Academy—even if no one knows it but them—and are determined to obtain their perfect future, no matter who gets in their way. This only spells bad news for queen bee Delilah Dufrey.
Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.
However, when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.
my thoughts: As I Descended is a sapphic Macbeth retelling, and one that I adored. Set in a boarding school, Marion and Lily are a power couple and eager to get to the top of the hierarchy, much like Macbeth and Lady M also were. Seeing a Macbeth retelling in a boarding school of all places was not something I expected to find, but I immediately fell in love with a concept. Vying for a crown and vying to be the top at a competitive school are two concepts that are surprisingly similar.
✨ reasons to read it: ✨
As I Descended is such a wonderful retelling, and somehow to me even more intense than the original Macbeth because teenage girls are so unpredictable, especially ambitious ones who have their eyes set on something. It’s all about how power corrupts and how quickly things can escalate if you’re not careful.
★ the atlas six ★
Fantasy meets dark academia is just a concept that I adore. School is stressful enough but add in magic classes or magic in general can either make things more stressful or more fun – or both!
↠ short synopsis: ↠The Alexandrian Society is a secret society of magical academicians in the world. Each decade, only the six most uniquely talented magicians are selected to be considered for initiation. This year, our six are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely – but, only five will be initiated, the other eliminated. As the year progresses, the six potential initiates fight to survive prove themselves to be the best among their rivals, while finding out that the elusive society is more than it seems.
my thoughts: If you know me, you know I love The Atlas Six with an absolute passion. TA6 goes very much into detail about how magic works, which while can get pretty philosophical at times was all round enjoyable for me.
While the other books focus on school or university-aged characters in their regular learning environment, TA6 has characters in their 20s who are suddenly given an opportunity to learn from a vast mass of books. They’ve got so much knowledge about magic and the world in general in the palm of their hands, and all they have to do is pass the initiation to officially be a part of the Alexandrian society and have all this knowledge at an arm’s reach.
✨ reasons to read it: ✨
This is a wonderful novel for people who enjoy character-driven stories. All the characters are so well developed with their own set of magical abilities. The novel not only goes into the characters and their magic, but also touches on the elitism of the society and academia in general.
★ ninth house ★
↠ short synopsis: ↠Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Following a troubling childhood, and becoming the sole survivor of a horrific multiple homicide, 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?
At Yale, Alex is tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.
my thoughts: Ninth House also has magical elements, centred on different secret societies in Yale who all have different magical rituals etc. The harrowing novel involves magic and ghosts and everything in between, but some of the most harrowing* elements in the novel was how terrible Alex was treated prior to entering university – and how instead of getting her help, the Yale staff decided to swoop in and take advantage of her poor situation to use her abilities to their advantage.
✨ reasons to read it: ✨
There’s so much to this novel – it’s got the dark academia element, different forms of magic, secret societies, and even a mystery element to it. All facets are well-written and riveting to read. The story is incredibly intense and violence (please heed the trigger warnings, and feel free to message me for context), and an incredibly fascinating story throughout.
★ more recs ★
I couldn’t include them all, so here are some other dark academia novels I’ve read and enjoyed! (Clicking on the pictures should redirect you to their respective goodreads pages)
Thank you for reading!
Let me know if you’ve read any of these or have any recommendations!