Best Dark Academia Books to Read this Fall

Best Dark Academia Books to Read this Fall

7 minute read

What Is Dark Academia?

We know most of you probably already know what dark academia is all about, but we figured we’d clarify for those new to the trend that’s become so popular.

Dark academia is a subculture that romanticizes higher education as it relates to classic literature, poetry, the arts, Greek and Roman mythology, and the gothic architecture which happens to have inspired the setting of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

Enthusiasts of the dark academia aesthetic share mood boards on social media platforms featuring academic settings like those found in ivy league colleges and universities. Think gothic buildings, tweed jackets, plaid skirts, and secret societies.

Let's start our own secret society and discuss some of our favorite reads that take on this aesthetic. Here is our curated list of the 12 best dark academia books to read this fall...

How It Started

Cover of The Secret Society by Donna Tartt the book that sparked the dark academia aesthetic

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992):

It all started with a book, this book in fact. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History has unofficially been declared the inspiration for creating the dark academic aesthetic. Because a book club in 2015 took to Tumblr to find more books like The Secret History, the #darkacademia hashtag started to trend, and now we can’t get enough! What puts the "dark" in "dark academia," pick up The Secret History to discover all the things that you love about the aesthetic: murder, mystery, college students, and the classics.

Cover of Dead Poets Society by Nancy H. Kleinbaum

Dead Poets Society by Nancy H. Kleinbaum (1998):

Based on the 1989 motion-picture by Tom Schulman and starring Robin Williams, Nancy Kleinbaum creates a novelization of the very conservative and elite Welton Academy, an all boys prep school located in Vermont whose motto is: “Tradition, Discipline, Honor, and Excellence.”

When Mr. Keating (Robin Williams in the movie), a new English teacher, arrives, the young men begin to challenge tradition and discipline and their lives are completely changed. The story has so many of the elements that make us long to read the poetry of Tennyson, Byron, Shelley, and Keats in a cave and “Carpe Diem!”

After reading, we urge you to watch the movie because we’re pretty sure you’ll love it, too!

Cover of A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (2003)

Libba Bray’s first book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy, A Great and Terrible Beauty takes readers to an all-girls boarding school in 1895 Victorian England. Bray’s gothic fantasy weaves magic, mystery, friendship, death, romance, and yes, a secret society.

Cover of Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale

Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (2006)

Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteeth Tale tells a tale of a haunted mansion and a plain girl—reminiscent of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Biographer Margaret Lea gets wrapped up in the dark and mysterious storytelling of Vida Winter, a best-selling author and recluse with secrets to tell…or hide. A former academic, Setterfield’s gothic story is said to be a “love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us.”

How It REALLY started: The Classics

Cover of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë sold by LitJoy

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)

So much of the dark academic aesthetic today is inspired by the gothic tales of long ago, like Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. A tormented childhood, a boarding school, a gothic-style house, a ghost in the attic, and a love story with lots of twists has generations of readers claiming Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester’s complex romance as one of the greatest books ever written.

Cover of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights sold by LitJoy

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)

Like Charlotte’s gothic romance, her sister Emily creates another dark and twisted love affair. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights spins a tale of a tortured orphan, entitled intellectuals, an impossible love affair, a madman with a warped sense of reality, a haunted house, and a corpse bride.

Heathcliff and Catherine’s love is anything but magical even though they may be together in the end.

Cover of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde sold by LitJoy

A Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)

While there may not be any specific focus on formal education in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, it does focus on the arts and hedonism that turns murderous.

Dorian’s inherited gothic-style mansion is his haunted house while Lord Henry Wotton serves as Dorian’s schoolmaster. A romantic and tragic story that any dark academic would enjoy!

How Its Going

Cover of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (2011)

Deborah Harkness’s first book in her All Souls trilogy A Discovery of Witches introduces readers to Diana Bishop, a Yale University professor doing research at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. There, deep in the stacks of the library built in the 16th century with ornate stained glass windows, Diana discovers a lost manuscript and inadvertently stirs up daemons, witches, and vampires of the underworld.

This fantasy epic has all the elements for a dark academic aesthetic, even an unlikely romance with the hunky vampire, Matthew Clairmont.

Cover of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys by Margaret Stiefvater (2012)

The Raven Boys is the first book in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series. Complete with rich, handsome boys that attend an expensive private school (Aglionby Academy) and wear expensive uniforms with cardigan sweaters, the YA fantasy fits well in this category. Especially, when the main character Blue Sargent knows she’ll eventually cause her true love to die. And her mom sees dead people.

Cover of The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (2019)

Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House takes on Yale University’s real secret societies with a paranormal twist. In it readers meet Alex Stern, a high school drop-out who gets a free ride to the exclusive ivy league school because of her supernatural powers.

Bardugo weaves a dark and mysterious tale inspired by her own time at Yale when she discovered the tombs of the school’s old secret organizations.

Cover of A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (2020)

Naomi Novik begins to build the world of Scholomance, a school of black magic in the first novel of her Scholomance trilogy. The story follows Galadriel "El" Higgins, a half-Welsh, half-Indian sorceress whose mission is to survive to graduation and beyond when more than half of the magical students die before they make it out through the gates.

Fashioned to be a more realistic—and much less safe—Hogwarts without teachers or contact to the outside world, Novik leans into the dark part of dark academia.

Cover of Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (2021)

When it seems like the aesthetic lacks diversity, authors of color step up to turn the genre on its head. Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades presents a thriller in the halls of Niveus Private Academy where Chiamaka Adebayo and Devon Richards are the only two black students in a sea of rich white kids.

Àbíké-Íyímídé carefully crafts this story with enthralling commentary on race, sexuality, class, and gender.

This list only scratches the surface of the many dark and twisted tales of dark academia that spans so many genres. Email to let us know your favorites!

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