Dark Academia Authors to Lure You Into the Shadows

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Lyndsie Manusos

Senior Contributor

Lyndsie Manusos’s fiction has appeared in PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other publications. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has worked in web production and content management. When she’s not nesting among her books and rough drafts, she’s chasing the baby while the dog watches in confused amusement. She lives with her family in a suburb of Indianapolis.

There is nothing like the vibes of dark academia: the aged stone buildings, the cool breezes, the hint of something sinister in the air. What wouldn’t we do for a bit of knowledge? The expansion of the mind — and therefore the expansion of power — is a seductive idea, one that I love seen explored in multiple facets of dark academia tales. In addition to the singular dark academia book, there are authors who particularly excel in creating dark academia settings, plots, and characters. Some dark academia authors will have one particular book to their name that best suits the genre, while others will have an over-arching, dark-academic-like theme that appears in some, or even all, of their books.

Dark Academia: What Is It?

Before we continue, let’s do small overview of dark academia as a genre.

In Fall 2021, fellow Book Rioter Adiba Jaigirdar wrote the article “What is Dark Academia and Why Is It So Popular?” Jaigirdar states that there is not a single, agreed-upon definition for dark academia. The genre can be defined in many ways, depending on the reader and/or author. One definition sticks out to me that encompasses what this article will focus on: “a focus on the pursuit of knowledge, and an exploration of death and morbidity.”

The pursuit of knowledge is often parallel to the pursuit of power. Characters in these stories often think, “If I can accomplish this, if I learn this, people will take me seriously — people will know my name,” and this thought process is common among dark academia tales, going all the way back to Frankenstein. The exploration of death is also common in academia; Who doesn’t want to defeat death, or prove that there is something beyond it?

If you’re looking for dark academia authors, these books are by some of the biggest names in the genre. They range from dark academia fantasy, dark academia horror, to literary dark academia. In that, I believe there is a dark academia author for every reader — you merely need to know the precise knowledge (or story, in this case) that you seek, before diving into your particular abyss…

Literary Dark Academia

Bunny by Mona Awad Book Cover

Bunny by Mona Awad

Awad is a master of dark academia, and the novel Bunny is no exception. It follows Samantha Heather Mackey as she navigates her New England university MFA program. Mackey loathes the rest of her writing cohort, which are a group of tightly-knit rich girls who call each other “Bunny.” But when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ salon, she can’t help but go, ripping open a world she never knew, while also putting her only friendship in jeopardy. This book is tense, sinister, and absolutely brilliant.

The Secret History Cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

There cannot be talk of dark academia without mentioning The Secret History. It has become a cult classic of the genre, making Donna Tartt an iconic dark academia authro. Released in 1992, The Secret History still holds up for its sprawling, thrilling tale of a group of misfits at a New England college. Under the guidance and influence of their classics college professor, these students — most from rich backgrounds save for the narrator, Richard — try to recreate the experiences they read about in Classics literature. Their search for higher meaning and transcendence mixes inextricably with obsession, privilege, and in the end, murder.

Dark Academia Fantasy

Book cover of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House is Bardugo’s first adult fantasy, and wow does it pack a punch. Ninth House follows Galaxy “Alex” Stern, who can see and communicate with ghosts, which is a valuable asset to the mysterious benefactors who offer Alex a full ride at Yale. There, she’s tasked with overseeing the rituals of Yale’s secret societies, run by privileged students from influential and extremely wealthy parents. Bardugo touches on the abuse of power and knowledge, oppression, and privilege in Ninth House, all while taking you on a wild ride of an adventure. And if you like Ninth House, the sequel Hell Bent is out and ready for you!

The Atlas Six by Olivia Blake Book Cover

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Olivie Blake catapulted to book stardom with The Atlas Six, which originally was a self-published series that went viral. Blake writes a layered and magnetic cast of characters, following six initiates as they compete to become a a part of the Alexandrian Society. Every 10 years, only six magicians are granted a place in this society where, if accepted, they would be given access to power and knowledge beyond their comprehension. The initiates will do whatever takes to be accepted into this society, until they’re presented with the foreboding question: at what cost?

Book cover of Babel, or the Necessity of Violence by R. F. Kuang

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang

Babel is a masterpiece in dark academia, from its setting to the themes it dissects. The story follows Robin Swift, who is brought to London after being orphaned in Canton due to cholera. Now it’s 1828, and Britain is unparalleled in power, mostly thanks to Babel, Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation. Babel not only deals with translation but also magic, through silver working. This is an epic tale examining colonization and systemic racism, with an academic institute at its core.

Dark Academia Horror

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia book cover

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In this lush science fiction drama, Carlotta Moreau is the daughter of a famed researcher, living on an luxurious estate away from the rest of the world. Her father, Dr. Moreau, has created hybrids that blindly obey their master. In this world of experiments, violence, and a hint of romance, Carlotta must discover the truth. This takes dark academia to the level of Frankenstein, where we must come to terms with the repercussions and horrors of our creations.

Cover image of Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas

Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas

I still think about this book, and certain scenes and dialogue will likely haunt me for the rest of my life (in the best way, of course). Catherine House is the epitome of dark academia, following Ines Murillo as she navigates the mysteries and tragedies of this secret place of higher learning. Catherine House sits in rural Pennsylvania, and is a college unlike any other. Its graduates go on to become Supreme Court Justices, famous inventors, you name it — it basically produces the elite. But Ines does not come from a rich background, nor does she have a family. Catherine House is the first home she’s ever had. Yet as she discovers more and more about Catherine House’s ideas and ideals, she realizes there is much more horror going on behind closed doors.

Where To Find More Dark Academia Authors

Dark academia is really having a moment right now, and many authors are doing brilliant work exploring the genre. If you like the above picks and want to dive further down the rabbit hole, be sure to check out these titles from Book Riot:

And if you want to take the next step in finding more dark academia titles catered to your interests, check out Book Riot’s Tailored Book Recommendations. This is a book subscription service that allows you to list your interests and deal-breakers, and then one of our expert bibliologists will pick out titles just for you. This service has multiple plans to choose from and will surely help you find new titles to scratch your dark academia itch.

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