Dark Academia has recently gained traction, with even the New York Times paying attention thanks to TikTok. For those who aren’t familiar, dark academia is a genre and aesthetic in an academic setting, focuses on the obsessive pursuit of knowledge and often explores death and morbidity. It’s been around for a while; seriously, The Secret History came out in 1992! Because of this, it’s been a historically white genre mainly starring male characters.
With contemporary authors, however, dark academia is getting an upgrade. New books feature diverse authors and characters and a lot more women. Here are some of my favorite recent examples of dark academia from the last few years — perfect for the spooky season.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Devon and Chiamaka, two high-achieving black students at an elite, predominately white school, believe their path to greatness begins with getting selected as prefects. However, their academic futures hang in the balance when an anonymous blackmailer threatens to leak their secrets to the entire school one text at a time. Is it just a prank or something sinister? Devon and Chiamaka must figure out who’s trying to ruin their lives before things get dangerous.
Marketed as Get Out meets Gossip Girl, Ace of Spades is the black, queer upgrade the dark academia genre needs. It’s also author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé‘s debut, which I hope means more great books from her in the future.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Alex Stern is the last person you would expect to get into Yale on a full ride, and yet she has: on one condition. Her mysterious benefactor has tasked her with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Known as the haunts of the future rich and powerful, the societies also engage in occult activities that turn out to be more sinister and terrifying than Alex could ever imagine.
Like most dark academia, Ninth House has a hefty list of trigger warnings. Leigh Bardugo‘s adult debut is much darker than her young adult books, but it’s well worth reading.
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
Felicity Morrow is back at Dalloway School. After a year away, she isn’t interested in dwelling on the school’s dark past. Felicity wants to put her girlfriend’s death behind her and focus on the future. This is hard to do when she’s back in her old room in Godwin House, where five girls rumored to be witches died one after the other.
When new student and prodigy novelist Ellis arrives, she asks Felicity for help researching their deaths. Cautious at first, Felicity can’t resist Ellis, even if it draws her back into a terrifying history.
A beautifully crafted and hauntingly atmospheric book, A Lesson in Vengeance is a fantastic and twisty gothic thriller. Although it’s a slow burn, Victoria Lee does a great job keeping readers engaged from the very first page.
The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky
As the new girl – and a scholarship student – Rachel Chavez is eager for a fresh start. When a prank goes wrong, she winds up with more enemies than friends; however, it also draws the attention of the Mary Shelley Club. Each member must design a Fear Test; an elaborate prank meant to terrify a specific target.
As the pranks escalate, the tests grow dangerous and out of control, with plenty of aspects that seem designed for Rachel. Is someone in the club targeting her, or is it all in Rachel’s head?
The Mary Shelley Club has the exact right amount of humor and suspense, with twists and turns that lead to an ending both terrifying and surreal. Goldy Moldavsky‘s effortless and immersive writing is perfect for anyone who enjoys the fear and adrenaline of scary movies.
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
Catherine House’s experimental curriculum and selective admissions policy produce some of the world’s best minds. For the few selected into the program, tuition, room and board are free; most students become celebrated artists, inventors and even presidents. Success comes with a cost, however, and students must give the House three entire years separate from the outside world.
They must leave everything behind: family, friends, music, even their clothes. New student Ines Murillo doesn’t mind giving things up if it means she can escape her past. However, as she gets deeper into Catherine House’s curriculum, it becomes clear that something is very wrong.
Elisabeth Thomas slowly builds tension and suspense, drawing the reader deeper into Ines’ life and the secrets of the House with every page. Catherine House requires you to keep an open mind for a slow-burn dark academia mystery culminating in an ambiguous ending.
How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao
When star student Jamie Ruan turns up dead, anonymous posts on Sinclair Prep’s social media blame her closest friends. “The Proctor” somehow knows every one of Nancy, Krystal, Akil and Alexander’s deepest secrets, and they aren’t afraid to reveal them. If Nancy wants to keep her scholarship and her life at Sinclair, she must track down both Jamie’s murderer and the Proctor, even if they turn out to be someone close to her.
Katie Zhao populates How We Fall Apart with damaged, broken characters straining under pressure to survive their competitive school. Zhao’s crisp writing style brings suspense and tension until the very last page.
So many more dark academia books have come out over the last few years; it isn’t going anywhere as a genre. All these books are available to purchase on Bookshop.org or your local independent bookstore. What are your favorite books from this new era of dark academia?
This article was originally published on 10/21/21.