Books

The Best Dark Academia Books To Read This Year

From Ace of Spades to The World Cannot Give.

'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.

In the world of fashion, dark academia is what happens when you mix sapiosexuals with mystique. The high contrast, sepia-toned aesthetic draws inspiration from mid-century school uniforms and traditional academic garb (tweed and ties, anyone?). Although dark academia’s recent rise in popularity is due in large part to the way the aesthetic has taken off on TikTok, it’s older than many, if not most, TikTokers.

The literary genre dates back to the 1980s and ’90s, when Meg Wolitzer and Donna Tartt made their respective debuts with Sleepwalking and The Secret History. In addition to those novels, this list includes recent releases like Mona Awad’s Bunny and Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House, which are keeping this 40-year-old literary trend fresh. Below, you’ll find a list full to bursting with cults of personality, candlelit midnight rituals, toxic friendships, manipulative faculty members, and, of course, murders most foul. There’s no shortage of campus-based thrillers to delve into here, and no matter which one you pick, it’s sure to be a perfect 2022 read.

Below, the 30 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

The Cartographers

When her father, a celebrated cartographer, is found dead with a seemingly worthless map — the very map that ruined her relationship with him — a young mapmaker finds herself playing a game of cat-and-mouse with a killer. It turns out the map is rare and highly sought-after, to the point that someone would kill to destroy it. But who? And, perhaps more importantly, why?

4

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.

5

Confessions

First translated into English in 2014, this Shirley Jackson Award-nominated novel centers on Yoko, a single mother whose world is turned upside down when her 4-year-old daughter is killed on the campus of the middle school where she teaches. Before she leaves her job, Yoko sets out to settle the score with the two young teens behind the murder.

6

Dark Things I Adore

Katie Lattari’s debut novel follows a small group of painting prodigies whose shared confessions at an art camp in the late 1980s come back to haunt them, 30 years later, when a young artist named Audra maneuvers her way into their lives. She knows what happened all those years ago, and she’s out for revenge.

7

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.

8

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.

9

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.

10

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.

11

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?

12

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?

13

The Lessons

This 2011 novel from Women’s Prize winner Naomi Alderman follows a tight-knit group of Oxford students: a small cadre of bright, quirky young adults, led by the wealthy Mark. Their bond is put to the test when Mark, who is gay, marries his friend’s 17-year-old sister, sending aftershocks through their clique.

14

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.

15

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.

16

Melmoth

The Essex Serpent author Sarah Perry published this work of dark academia in 2018. Here, a British translator working in Prague comes face-to-face with a grim legend when her colleague uncovers a strange letter before vanishing without a trace. Was Karel compelled to leave by the legendary Melmoth the Witness, or is there some other evil force afoot?

17

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.”

18

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?

19

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.

20

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.

21

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.

22

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.

23

Sleepwalking

Meg Wolitzer’s 1982 debut follows a trio of poetry-reading Swarthmore students known on campus as “the death girls.” Enthralled by the writings of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and the fictional Lucy Asher — each of whom died by suicide — the women meet in private to read and discuss their favorite poets’ works. But when one of the girls is caught up in a crisis of identity, she starts to spiral — and her friends may get pulled down with her.

24

The Stranger Diaries

A high school English teacher who offers a course in the works of Gothic author R. M. Holland is drawn into a twisty murder mystery when her colleague is killed, and a message from one of Holland’s books is left at the scene of the crime. To deal with the anxiety of the investigation, Clare restarts her old journaling habit. But someone else is writing in Clare’s journal, and they might have something to do with her colleague’s death.

25

They Never Learn

Every year, Dr. Scarlett Clark chooses one terrible man at Gorman University to kill, and gets away with it — but she might not this time. A formal investigation has just been launched into the college’s suspiciously high death count, and there’s another would-be killer on campus, one who has a student rapist in her sights.

26

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.

27

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.

28

Vladimir

When a respected professor is accused of behaving inappropriately toward his students, he and his wife — with whom he has an open marriage — must weather a storm of criticism and suspicion. Things only get worse when the man’s wife, a beloved professor of English at their small college, begins a heady extramarital affair with a visiting writer: the eponymous Vladimir.

29

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.

30

The World Cannot Give

Laura has based her entire worldview on All Before Them: the only novel by Sebastian Webster, a literary wunderkind who died during the Spanish Civil War. So when she gets the chance to attend Webster’s old prep school, St. Dunstan’s Academy, Laura takes a leap. There, she meets Virginia Strauss, a recent convert to Christianity, who leads St. Dunstan’s choir and its unofficial Sebastian Webster fanclub. But as Virginia’s hold over the choir becomes increasingly charismatic, the school’s faculty begin to notice, and Laura’s allegiances will be put to the test.

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