Ghost stories, secret societies, and sudden disappearances are just some of the things you can expect from the dark academia genre.
For some, autumn takes shape in back-to-school stationery shopping, comfort movies and feel-good television series, oversized warm-toned sweaters, and soothing hot beverages. Dark academia might not be for those people. Instead, the primary consumers of this genre are those who love leaning into their gothic sides, minds fascinated with all things dark… including death. And with these stories usually taking place in elite universities and schools or magnificent libraries, one can only be surprised by how many murders can occur between classroom walls.
While the genre blew up on social media during the past years, mostly for its aesthetic, dark academia has been around for quite some time. Some might think back to The Secret Society by Donna Tartt, also known in the community as the ‘it’ book for the genre. Still, if you go even further, you’ll find traces of dark academia in books such as The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Dracula by Bram Stoker, and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
However, if you want to venture beyond the classics and enjoy more modern takes, here are some novels to add to your reading list.
Ninth House (2019)
Starting off strong comes a book that has it all. Magic, ghosts, murder, disappearances, and secret societies are not what Galaxy “Alex” Stern expected when she joined Yale’s freshman class. Miles from California, the place she considered home, Alex arrives in New Haven ready to change her life around.
But still, her past continues to haunt her as she searches for answers to questions that never leave her mind. Why was she the only survivor of terrible multiple homicides, one that remains unsolved? Why was she, a high school dropout with a troublesome past, offered a full ride to one of the most exclusive schools in the country? You might start reading the novel hoping to find some answers yourself, but you’ll definitely stick around for Alex.
Ninth House is part of the Alex Stern series, with the sequel, Hell Bent, expected in January 2023.
The Maidens (2021)
Can a Greek tragedy professor employed at Cambridge University really be capable of murder? Many find it difficult to believe. Especially when the man in question, Edward Fosca, is a handsome and charismatic teacher loved by faculty and students alike, particularly the secret all-female society called The Maidens.
However, Cambridge alumnus, now group therapist Mariana Andros is convinced that something is off with Edward. And when she gets a call from her niece saying that her friend, a member of The Maidens, is dead, Mariana can’t help but think that one particular professor might be responsible. Soon another body shows up, and Mariana becomes determined to take down this devil concealed as a saint… even if it costs her her life.
If We Were Villains (2017)
For some actors, the practice of separating themselves from the characters they play can be quite difficult. That is just the case for a group of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite art school. With a great passion for the writer and the craft, this friend group finds it hard to leave the characters they play on stage behind, instead opting to carry out their roles off stage as well as on.
But like with any production, drama filled the theatre even beyond the play script. And as cast changes are made and secondary characters fight for their place on the stage, this group starts to fall apart. But what really twists the knife into their wounds is the murder of one among them. Will these actors be able to put on the performance of a lifetime and convince the police, the world, and themselves that they are innocent? One can only hope so because their lives depend on it.
What can an introvert who loves the company of her imagination more than actual people’s worst nightmare be, one might wonder. Well, they should look no further as the answer is Samantha’s current life. Enrolled in a highly-exclusive master’s program on scholarship, Samantha can’t help but feel like an outsider. Not only are the girls surrounding her extremely rich, but they also do everything together in packs, moving and speaking as one. And what’s even weirder is that they all seem to answer to the name Bunny.
But soon, this particular introvert receives an invitation to one of the Bunnies’ gatherings. And before she can figure a way out, Samantha finds herself becoming a part of the group. Though now she’s become a Bunny herself, she doesn’t really want to leave. That is until she begins to dive deeper and deeper into this girls’ club, uncovering their sinister activities, all the while losing her grasp on reality and her identity.
Now, if the summary of the plot doesn’t interest you enough, then perhaps discovering that this novel will take you on the weirdest ride of your life will persuade you to read it.
Never Let Me Go (2005)
And last but not least comes Never Let Me Go, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Boarding schools have many characteristics, from daily schedules to a wide range of extracurricular activities to partake in. However, one of the more prominent characteristics is location, precisely the distance between the school and neighboring cities. For that reason, Hailsham is built in the English countryside. There, students can focus on their education and enjoy the nature surrounding them.
However, as one student grows from a child to a young woman and leaves the school for the first time with her two friends, the trio realizes just how little they were taught about the real world. While Never Let Me Go is a little subtler when it comes to its dark academic qualities, this novel still messes with your heart and shocks you in ways you wouldn’t think possible.
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