Dark Academia: Knowledge Can Be Deadly

By Rummanah Aasi

Dark academia fiction typically addresses a variety of social issues, characters who have an academic or obsessive pursuit of knowledge, and a cast of morally ambiguous characters, commonly seen through an Eurocentric lens. If you are looking for books that go beyond the cookie-cutter plot of Donna Tart's The Secret History, give these titles a try.

  • The Centre

    2023 by Manazir Siddiqi, Ayesha

    The Centre is a highly secretive and exclusive institution that allows a person to learn a language fluently in just 10 days, but at a terrifying cost. Siddiqui examines how assimilation, identity, language, and social class all interact in one's existence. Enthralling, insightful, and extremely thought-provoking.

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  • A Study in Drowning

    2023 by Reid, Ava

    Fantasy meets dark academia with a slow-burn, rivals-to-lovers romance. Reid incorporates elements of each beautifully, with a timely discussion of gender discrimination and misogyny that isn't heavy handed, which makes this a captivating read. Perfect for fans of Holly Black and the Sisters of the Salt series by Erin A. Craig.

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  • The Things We Do to Our Friends

    2023 by Darwent, Heather

    A blend of dark psychological thriller and dark academia set in Edinburgh, Scotland. It explores how far a group of university friends will go as they start a dangerous project in the name of retribution. Readers can expect lies, secrets, toxic friendships, and a fascinating interplay of predator vs prey.

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  • The Forest Demands Its Due

    2023 by Jackson, Kosoko

    A suspenseful blend of horror, fantasy, and dark academia. The folklore that Jackson created is riveting and well thought out. The use of the forest as a metaphor for cyclic suffering and punishment, plus the characters' self-awareness of privilege and power in an academic setting, make this a worthy read.

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  • The Reformatory

    2023 by Due, Tananarive

    Unlike the other books in this list, this one is based a real school, Dozier School for Boys in Florida, that was shrouded in secrets for years. Due dedicates this book to her great-uncle, who died in Dozier in 1937. While ghosts are incorporated into this page-turning, eye-opening historical horror, it is the real monsters of systemic racism and injustice that shake readers to their core.

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  • Ink Blood Sister Scribe

    2023 by Törzs, Emma

    A spellbinding fantasy debut that features secret libraries, magical books written with blood, and the ruthless pursuit of immortality. The magical system is straightforward and intriguing, as is the complex yet loving relationship between sisters Esther and Joanna. A great pick for fans of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern.

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  • The Narrow

    2023 by Marshall, Kate Alice

    Marshall has created an engrossing dark academia novel that is filled with Gothic vibes, supernatural chills, and a riveting mystery. This haunting read is perfect for readers who crave an ambience of dread and uncertainty along with a romantic subplot.

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  • The Grimoire of Grave Fates


    If you are short on time and cannot dedicate yourself to a full-length novel, consider this ingeniously crafted anthology in which 18 authors try to solve a magical murder of a loathsome professor at the elite Galileo Academy for the Extraordinary. The short stories are intricately linked and push the investigation forward while pointing out issues that need to be addressed by the administration. Since each character is tangentially tied to the investigation, they work together, leaning on each other's strengths instead of being rivals. An intriguing premise without heavy fantasy world building, and a good whodunit.

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  • The Book Eaters

    2022 by Dean, Sunyi

    In this compelling, fascinating, and thrilling tale, the phrase "voracious reader" takes on a whole new meaning. Dean has constructed vampiric-like beings that eat books as sustenance. Terrified that her son is born hungering not for paper, printing, and binding but humans, she goes on the run to sate his hunger. This wholly unique world will make you think about gender roles, the impact of trauma, and what you are willing to do to survive a system that is meant to break and crush you.

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  • Babel: Or, the Necessity of Violence

    2022 by Kuang, R. F.

    Western educational systems seem to be the cornerstone of dark academia. Babel effectively and sharply takes a critical look at this subgenre as it examines colonialism, the power of language and translation, and systemic racism within an academic institute.

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  • Ace of Spades

    2021 by Àbíké-Íyímídé, Faridah

    This intense thriller captivated me right from the first page. Think Gossip Girl meets Get Out, but layers of social commentary and unexpected twists and turns in the plot elevate this story from the others with a similar tag line.

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  • These Violent Delights

    2020 by Nemerever, Micah

    Inspired by a true crime case, Nemerever delivers a chilling character study on insecurity and the lengths some men will go to feel seen, important, and loved. If you enjoyed the characters from The Secret History, the obsessive love of Call Me by Your Name, and the sinister suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock film, this book is for you.

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  • My Dark Vanessa

    2020 by Russell, Kate Elizabeth

    This complex and introspective novel interrogates the power dynamics between teacher and student. It brilliantly highlights the complexities of the #MeToo movement and is based on the author's own experiences.

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