Books

The Best Dark Academia Books To Read This Fall

From Ace of Spades to We Wish You Luck.

'Bunny,' 'Hex,' 'The Divines,' and 'We Wish You Luck' are among the best dark academia books to read...
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Dark academia has it all: the fashion, the intrigue, the pseudo-intellectual nonsense. The genre’s best books highlight everything that’s wrong with our most esteemed institutions, the people who uphold them, and the hopefuls they grind to a pulp. It’s no wonder that readers can’t get enough.

Although dark academia’s recently seen its popularity rise as the aesthetic has taken off on TikTok, it’s older than much of that platform’s user base. Drawing inspiration from mid-century school uniforms and traditional academic garb (tweed and ties, anyone?), dark academia is what happens when you mix sapiosexuals with mystique.

The seminal novel included on this list is Donna Tartt’s 1992 debut, The Secret History — a whodunit set on the grounds of a small New England college. But recent releases like Mona Awad’s Bunny and Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House are keeping the 30-year-old literary trend fresh. There’s no shortage of campus-based thrillers to delve into, and no matter which one you pick, it’s sure to be a perfect fall read.

Below, the 20 best dark academia books to read now.

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1

Ace of Spades

Two high-achieving Black students at an elite, majority-white academy find their academic futures threatened by an anonymous blackmailer. The mysterious villain has somehow obtained all the intimate details of their social lives — and is leaking them to the entire school, one text at a time.

2

Bunny

Mona Awad leans heavily into dark academia’s horror side in Bunny: a novel in which a friendless MFA candidate joins her cohort’s exclusive literary salon, and finds herself drawn into a sinister, imagination-fueled world.

3

Catherine House

At an unconventional college secluded in the Pennsylvania wilds, an ex-party girl gets a wake-up call when her roommate unexpectedly dies. Suddenly, she can’t help but dig deeper into the secrets that lurk in her institution’s hallowed halls.

4

The Divines

Fifteen years after the doors to her once-prestigious school closed for good, Josephine is plunged into the painful memories of her hazy past, reliving the last days of St. John the Divine and the scandal that changed her friends’ lives forever.

5

Ghosts of Harvard

Cady’s older brother dies by suicide while attending Harvard, leaving behind a notebook filled with strange and unthinkable claims. To investigate them, Cady enrolls at the university herself.

6

Hex

In this short novel from the author of The Sunlit Night, a disgraced PhD candidate gets caught up in academic intrigue. While working on a means of removing toxins from poisonous plants, Nell becomes increasingly obsessed with her alluring mentor.

7

The Historian

You don’t get much more dark academia than Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. In this literary horror novel, one young researcher dives into the mystery of Vlad the Impaler — a mystery that her family has been trying to unravel for generations, with disastrous results.

8

How We Fall Apart

When a junior at a well-respected prep school is found dead, anonymous posts begin to circulate on the school’s social media app, calling out the girl’s closest friends as suspects. The source known only as “The Proctor” knows everything about Nancy, Krystal, Akil, and Alexander. With everything on the line, can they find out who’s behind the messages before it’s too late?

9

A Lesson in Vengeance

Literary wunderkind Ellis has just arrived at Dalloway School’s Godwin House — rumored to be the most haunted building on the secluded campus — to research her next novel: the story of five young witches who were murdered in their dormitory. She’s going to need some help, however, and who better than Felicity, the returning student still grieving for her girlfriend’s death?

10

The Library of the Unwritten

All stories want to be told. Those that aren’t languish in Hell’s Library of the Unwritten... but sometimes their characters come out to make mischief. When one story’s Hero goes rogue and disappears, it’s up to hellish librarian Claire, muse Brevity, and the demon Leto to hunt him down before he ruins everything for his unsuspecting author.

11

The Mary Shelley Club

In this page-turner from Kill the Boy Band author Goldy Moldavsky, an unpopular prep school student is welcomed into a secret society of pranksters — just when she needs friends the most.

12

Ninth House

Alex is the last person on Earth you’d expect to get a full ride to Yale, and yet, she has — on one condition: that she report back to her benefactor about the movements of the school’s secret societies. It’s easier said than done, but Alex is about to find her “in.”

13

One of Us Is Lying

When the creator of a high-school gossip app dies in detention, four of his classmates come under harsh scrutiny. Who killed Simon, and why? Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, and Cooper all had reasons. They all had a motive. Only one of them is guilty... right?

14

Plain Bad Heroines

More than 100 years after five young girls met gruesome deaths on school grounds, the Brookhants School for Girls serves as a set for a queer horror film inspired by its macabre history. Three women gather to make movie magic — but they may awoken something much grimmer in Brookhants’ hallowed halls.

15

Piranesi

Possibly the weirdest book on this list — in the best possible way — Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi follows its eponymous hero through the flooded halls of his creepy, labyrinthine home as he searches for A Great and Secret Knowledge hidden within its depths.

16

Real Life

Queer, Black, and from the South, PhD candidate Wallace sticks out like a sore thumb at his majority-white Midwestern university. Even so, he’s managed to build something of a rapport with the school’s gay community — but an altercation with a white student may put his entire academic future in jeopardy.

17

The Secret History

The granddaddy of dark academia, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is a whodunit of door-stopper proportions. The story here centers on six students studying in the Classics program at a small Vermont college — one of whom was murdered by another in the clique.

18

Those Who Prey

Isolated and friendless, a first-year college student falls in with an abusive cult in Jennifer Moffett’s Those Who Prey. Stranded in a foreign country without their passports, Emily and the Kingdom’s other victims find themselves in dire straits when someone turns up dead.

19

Trust Exercise

Set at a performing arts high school in the 1980s, Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise follows two students through the beginnings of their picture-perfect romance, and through its inevitable crash. Years later, however, new facts come to light that reveal more about David, Sarah, and their classmates.

20

We Wish You Luck

In Caroline Zancan’s We Wish You Luck, three charismatic grad students plot their revenge on a visiting novelist-turned-professor, with delightfully awful results.