When I sit in Love Library, I romanticize my life, pretending to be the main character while I annotate novels for my gothic literature class. This romanticized version of my life stems from my love of dark academia novels. Dark academia is an aesthetic that is heavily influenced by gothic literature and architecture, higher education and Greek mythology. Think of English majors wearing tweed, drinking black coffee while smoking cigarettes and killing their friends in the name of Dionysus. My TikTok “For You” page is filled with videos all about dark academia, from what to wear to what to read. I wanted to compile a list of lesser-known dark academia novels that I urge you to get your hands on. There are so many more dark academia novels outside of “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt, and I wanted to provide new recommendations. You’ll be transported to ivy covered walls after the first page of each of these books.
“Ace of Spades” by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
If you take the ideas of “Pretty Little Liars” and “Gossip Girl” and put them into the perfect academia setting, you would have “Ace of Spades.” Devon and Chiamaka are chosen as prefects at a predominately white elite school where they’re the only people of color. After receiving their prestigious titles, Devon and Chiamaka start to receive messages from an anonymous texter called “Aces” threatening to dig up their dirty secrets.
Everything about “Ace of Spades” gripped me until the last sentence. The creepy twists and turns held truths about the experiences of Black youth. The social commentary added to the dark elements of the text, making me want to swoop into the novel and save both Devon and Chiamaka from Aces’ plans.
“Stalking Jack the Ripper” by Kerri Maniscalco
To preface this, “Stalking Jack the Ripper” is my favorite book. Audrey Rose Wadsworth has wanted to examine corpses for as long as she can remember. She lives a secret life where she sneaks into her uncle’s laboratory to study forensic science, and soon, her uncle is tasked to examine horrendously savaged corpses with her at his aid. Audrey is thrust into the middle of a serial killer investigation, and her world is about to shatter.
The Victorian England time period, the slow burn enemies-to-lovers romance and the woman in STEM representation combine to cook up the perfect novel. I struggle to put into words how much I love this novel and all of the characters. If there is one book I want you to read someday, it would be “Stalking Jack the Ripper.”
“The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern
What would you do if you found a book hidden in Love Library that contained stories from your own childhood? Morgenstern throws the reader in the middle of Zachary Ezra Rawlins’ life as a graduate student in Vermont. He finds a mysterious book in the stacks of his college library containing stories that not only spin tales of his own life, but of nameless acolytes and key collectors. Zachary is swept into a mystery as he finds a series of clues and ends up at a masquerade party in New York City, uncovering a secret library hidden beneath the earth.
Morgenstern blends legends and wonders to create the quintessential dark academia novel. I couldn’t put down “The Starless Sea” because each world was delicately chosen by Morgenstern.
“The Maidens” by Alex Michaelides
Michaelides drew from Greek tragedies to set a twisted tale in Cambridge University. When Mariana Andros visits the university to see her niece Zoe after Zoe’s friend went missing, Mariana finds herself investigating the murder. She is sure the killer is Edward Fosca, a beloved Greek Tragedy professor who has a secret society dedicated to him called ‘The Maidens.’ The society is composed of female students who have a devotion to the professor, and as Mariana unwinds this mystery, she relives memories of her own college experience and the horrors of the Cambridge campus.
Michaelides knows how to write a novel that keeps me up all night. I found that the Cambridge campus setting and the Greek mythology allusions created a perfect dark academia novel.
“The Atlas Six” by Olivie Blake
I went into “The Atlas Six” only knowing that it was considered dark academia, and I was pleasantly surprised. Blake creates a world in which each decade, six magicians are chosen to begin the initiation process into the Alexandrian Society. The story follows the six who are chosen and the process through which one will be eliminated.
I think the vagueness of the synopsis adds to the overall appeal of the story. I enjoyed the fantasy spin on the dark academia aesthetic. All of the characters were compelling and had complexities that made me root for them despite their flaws. Blake’s writing is not revolutionary, but she created a world that kept me intrigued. The vibe and aesthetic of the novel deserves all of the hype it has earned.
All of these books have elements of the gothic, from their eerie settings to murderous investigations, that are key features in a dark academia novel. Each of these novels will leave you wanting to run away to an East Coast town and hide in a candle lit library.