11 Dark Academia Reads Deserving of Top Marks

April 27 2022
Share 11 Dark Academia Reads Deserving of Top Marks

Graduation is almost upon us! So, we’re taking this opportunity to round up book recs with a dark academia aesthetic. Here are some moody, existentialist finds that would make any student happy to be getting out of school.

The Lying Game
by Ruth Ware

The morning after something sinister washes up on the ocean shores near their boarding school, three women in and around London receive the very text message they’ve been dreading since their dubious expulsion. “I need you,” it reads, from Kate, the fourth girl they used to be inseparable from during their school days. Raw and all-consuming, THE LYING GAME sees the potentially life-threatening outcomes of abetting deceit and keeping the wrong secrets. Sink into this atmospheric psychological thriller before Ware’s latest, THE IT GIRL, comes out this July!

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The Lying Game
Ruth Ware

Praise for Ruth Ware’s instant New York Times, USA TODAY, and Los Angeles Times bestseller:

“So many questions....Until the very last page! Needless to say, I could not put this book down!” —Reese Witherspoon

“Once again the author of The Woman in Cabin 10 delivers mega-chills.” —People

“Missing Big Little Lies? Dig into this psychological thriller about whether you can really trust your nearest and dearest.” —Cosmopolitan

From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 comes a chilling new novel of friendship, secrets, and the dangerous games teenaged girls play.

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten, along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister…

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isa—receive the text they had always hoped would never come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.”

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second-rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty. But their little game had consequences, and as the four converge in present-day Salten, they realize their shared past was not as safely buried as they had once hoped…

Atmospheric, twisty, and with just the right amount of chill to keep you wrong-footed, The Lying Game is told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, lending itself to becoming another unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

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The Girls Are All So Nice Here
by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Guilt is a funny thing, isn’t it? When ex-mean girl Amb receives a cautionary note saying, “We need to talk about what happened that night,” along with an invitation to her ten-year college reunion, she can’t help but think about all of the horrific things she did with her ex-best friend, larger-than-life Sully. She’d give anything to avoid the event altogether, but her lovable and clueless husband is adamant that they attend. Begrudgingly reunited, Amb and Sully are forced to face their past villainy and deal with its very dark consequences.

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The Girls Are All So Nice Here
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

A USA TODAY Best Book of 2021

Two former best friends return to their college reunion to find that they’re being circled by someone who wants revenge for what they did ten years before—and will stop at nothing to get it—in this “propulsive” (Megan Miranda, bestselling author of The Girl from Widow Hills) psychological thriller.

A lot has changed in years since Ambrosia Wellington graduated from college, and she’s worked hard to create a new life for herself. But then an invitation to her ten-year reunion arrives in the mail, along with an anonymous note that reads, “We need to talk about what we did that night.

It seems that the secrets of Ambrosia’s past—and the people she thought she’d left there—aren’t as buried as she believed. Amb can’t stop fixating on what she did or who she did it with: larger-than-life Sloane “Sully” Sullivan, Amb’s former best friend, who could make anyone do anything.

At the reunion, Amb and Sully receive increasingly menacing messages, and it becomes clear that they’re being pursued by someone who wants more than just the truth of what happened that first semester. This person wants revenge for what they did and the damage they caused—the extent of which Amb is only now fully understanding. And it was all because of the game they played to get a boy who belonged to someone else and the girl who paid the price.

Alternating between the reunion and Amb’s freshman year, The Girls Are All So Nice Here is a “chilling and twisty thriller” (Book Riot) about the brutal lengths girls can go to get what they think they’re owed, and what happens when the games we play in college become matters of life and death.

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Very Bad People
by Kit Frick

In her tiny Adirondacks town, Calliope is one of two sisters known for surviving the unfortunate accident that killed their mom. And she hates it. Looking to escape, and maybe connect with her mom beyond tragedy, Calliope enrolls in her elite alma mater, Tipton Academy. There, she joins an exclusive secret society that advocates for social justice on campus. Things go too far, and Calliope quickly understands that some members seem to have their own misguided conceptions of justice—and a possible connection to her mom’s death. Frick’s VERY BAD PEOPLE is a twisty, fast-paced mystery that will leave you wanting more.

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Very Bad People
Kit Frick

First editions have an exclusive foil design underneath the jacket!

In this dark academia young adult thriller for fans of The Female of the Species and People Like Us, a teen girl’s search for answers about her mother’s mysterious death leads to a powerful secret society at her new boarding school—and a dangerous game of revenge that will leave her forever changed.

Six years ago, Calliope Bolan’s mother drove the family van into a lake with her three daughters inside. The girls escaped, but their mother drowned, and the truth behind the “accident” remains a mystery Calliope is determined to solve. Now sixteen, she transfers to Tipton Academy, the same elite boarding school her mother once attended. Tipton promises a peek into the past and a host of new opportunities—including a coveted invitation to join Haunt and Rail, an exclusive secret society that looms over campus like a legend.

Calliope accepts, stepping into the exhilarating world of the “ghosts,” a society of revolutionaries fighting for social justice. But when Haunt and Rail commits to exposing a dangerous person on campus, it becomes clear that some ghosts define justice differently than others.

As the society’s tactics escalate, Calliope uncovers a possible link between Haunt and Rail and her mother’s deadly crash. Now, she must question what lengths the society might go to in order to see a victory—and if the secret behind her mother’s death could be buried here at Tipton.

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Legendborn
by Tracy Deonn

Sixteen-year-old Bree is a high school student attending college classes at her late mother’s alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, when she stumbles upon a ghastly sight: a demon feeding on human energies, and the secret cohort whose task is to hunt the creatures down. When a mage fails to remove all of Bree’s memories of the incident, she stumbles upon a buried memory that implies there was more to her mother’s death than she thought. What ensues is a perfect union between Arthurian mythology and the young adult genre, wherein issues of inequality and the grim legacy of slavery are tackled without nuance.

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Legendborn
Tracy Deonn

An Instant New York Times Bestseller!
Winner of the Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe for New Talent Author Award

Filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy reinvents the King Arthur legend and “braids together Southern folk traditions and Black Girl Magic into a searing modern tale of grief, power, and self-discovery” (Dhonielle Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Belles).

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

This paperback edition of Legendborn contains a teaser to the thrilling sequel, Bloodmarked, as well as an exclusive short story from Selwyn Kane's perspective!

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The World Cannot Give
by Tara Isabella Burton

Burton explores the sinister consequences of blind devotion in THE WORLD CANNOT GIVE. Propelled by an incessant longing of sharing experiences with her favorite novelist and St. Dunstan’s alum, Sebastian Webster, Laura Stearns finds herself in the thralls of the like-minded, Webster-worshipping school chapel choir. When the new school chaplain questions the intense hold group leader Virginia Strauss seems to have on the members of the choir, and her efforts of retaining them meander into dangerous territory, Laura is faced with abandoning her search for meaning or losing herself entirely.

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The World Cannot Give
Tara Isabella Burton

The Girls meets Fight Club in this coming-of-age novel about queer desire, religious zealotry, and the hunger for transcendence among the devoted members of a cultic chapel choir in a prestigious Maine boarding school—and the obsessively ambitious, terrifyingly charismatic girl that rules over them.

When shy, sensitive Laura Stearns arrives at St. Dunstan’s Academy in Maine, she dreams that life there will echo her favorite novel, All Before Them, the sole surviving piece of writing by Byronic “prep school prophet” (and St. Dunstan’s alum) Sebastian Webster, who died at nineteen, fighting in the Spanish Civil War. She soon finds the intensity she is looking for among the insular, Webster-worshipping members of the school’s chapel choir, which is presided over by the charismatic, neurotic, overachiever Virginia Strauss. Virginia is as fanatical about her newfound Christian faith as she is about the miles she runs every morning before dawn. She expects nothing short of perfection from herself—and from the members of the choir.

Virginia inducts the besotted Laura into a world of transcendent music and arcane ritual, illicit cliff-diving and midnight crypt visits: a world that, like Webster’s novels, finally seems to Laura to be full of meaning. But when a new school chaplain challenges Virginia’s hold on the “family” she has created, and Virginia’s efforts to wield her power become increasingly dangerous, Laura must decide how far she will let her devotion to Virginia go.

The World Cannot Give is a shocking meditation on the power, and danger, of wanting more from the world.

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Vladimir
by Julia May Jonas

Reflections on aging, power inequality, obsessive desire, and more are at the forefront of Jonas’s exhilarating and timely debut novel, VLADIMIR. The novel follows a well-liked professor as she develops an interest in a celebrated—and married—young novelist that borders on infatuation. At the same time, her husband is thrust into an investigation for having inappropriate relationships with his former students. As tensions rise, the line of propriety blurs, and our conveniently unreliable narrator is tasked with keeping it all together.

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Vladimir
Julia May Jonas

A provocative, razor-sharp, and timely debut novel about a beloved English professor facing a slew of accusations against her professor husband by former students—a situation that becomes more complicated when she herself develops an obsession of her own...

“When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me.”

And so we are introduced to our deliciously incisive narrator: a popular English professor whose charismatic husband at the same small liberal arts college is under investigation for his inappropriate relationships with his former students. The couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extra-marital pursuits, but with these new allegations, life has become far less comfortable for them both. And when our narrator becomes increasingly infatuated with Vladimir, a celebrated, married young novelist who’s just arrived on campus, their tinder box world comes dangerously close to exploding.

With this bold, edgy, and uncommonly assured debut, author Julia May Jonas takes us into charged territory, where the boundaries of morality bump up against the impulses of the human heart. Propulsive, darkly funny, and wildly entertaining, Vladimir perfectly captures the personal and political minefield of our current moment, exposing the nuances and the grey area between power and desire.

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They Never Learn
by Layne Fargo

Scarlett is killing it as an English professor, and in her extracurriculars, too. Literally. Every year, she finds the worst man on campus and sees to his well-earned demise. At the peak of her vigilantism, though, the increasing body count alarms the university to the point of calling for an investigation into the recent string of deaths. Meanwhile, freshman Carly Schiller falls into step with her outgoing roommate, Allison. Polar opposites, at first glance Allison and Carly seem like unlikely best friends, but their bond develops into something strong rather quickly. When Allison is attacked at a party, Carly is left with no choice but to seek revenge for her friend. Dual timelines merge into a wickedly clever, morally ambiguous read reminiscent of Killing Eve.

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They Never Learn
Layne Fargo

From the author of the “raw, ingenious, and utterly fearless” (Wendy Walker, USA TODAY bestselling author) Temper comes a dynamic psychological thriller about two women who give bad men exactly what they deserve—perfect for fans of Killing Eve and Chelsea Cain.

Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor. But she’s even better at getting away with murder.

Every year, Dr. Clark searches for the worst man at Gorman University—professor, student, or otherwise—and plots his well-deserved demise. Thanks to her meticulous planning, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself…but as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the growing body count on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Dr. Clark insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge. Everything’s going according to her master plan…until she loses control with her latest victim, putting her secret life at risk of exposure.

Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Finally free of her emotionally abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies and fade into the background. Her new roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay...and turning her fantasies about revenge into a reality.

“A gorgeously-written ragestorm of a thriller” (Wendy Heard, author of The Kill Club), They Never Learn is a feminist serial killer story that you won’t be able to put down.

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Those Who Prey
by Jennifer Moffett

With no real group of friends behind her, freshman Emily feels robbed of the idyllic college experience. Joining The Kingdom, an exclusive on-campus group, seems an easy enough choice once she’s approached. Their offers of spontaneous acceptance and a lush summer trip to Italy seem like no-brainers. Unfortunately, things are rarely as they seem. Jennifer Moffett’s THOSE WHO PREY follows Emily and The Kingdom on a mission trip gone awry—left with no passport, no money, and cut off from their families back home, Emily and the sequestered members of this group are faced with the horrifying realities of group fanaticism.

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Those Who Prey
Jennifer Moffett

Sadie meets The Girls in this riveting debut psychological thriller about a lonely college freshman seduced into joining a cult—and her desperate attempt to escape before it’s too late.

College life isn’t what Emily expected.

She expected to spend freshman year strolling through the ivy-covered campus with new friends, finally feeling like she belonged. Instead, she walks the campus alone, still not having found her place or her people so far away from home.

But then the Kingdom finds her.

The Kingdom, an exclusive on-campus group, offers everything Emily expected out of college and more: acceptance, friends, a potential boyfriend, and a chance to spend the summer on a mission trip to Italy. But the trip is not what she thought it would be. Emily and the others are stripped of their passports and money. They’re cut off from their families back home. The Kingdom’s practices become increasingly manipulative and dangerous…

​And someone ends up dead.

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Catherine House
by Elisabeth Thomas

At Catherine House, the promise of free tuition, room and board, and everything else under the sun is contingent only on the relinquishment of three years of the attendees’ lives. Ines, looking to escape commonplace debauchery for the rigorous curriculum advertised by the prestigious institution, is rightfully shocked to find that at Catherine, exploration—in all sorts of pursuits—is highly encouraged. Atmospheric and decadent, CATHERINE HOUSE is a dreamy, gothic, introspective piece of literature that will haunt you long after you put it down.

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Catherine House
Elisabeth Thomas

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Ace of Spades
by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Queer and rife with commentary about the destructive nature of oppression, Àbíké-Íyímídé’s ACE OF SPADES is a stunner of a debut. At Niveus Private Academy, money is king, and power has a set price. When shadowy texter Aces airs the private photos of celebrated musician Devon, and threatens to destabilize unapologetic, goal-oriented head girl Chiamaka, what ensues is a heart-pounding thriller that will have you nail-biting all the way through.

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Ace of Spades
Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

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If We Were Villains
by M. L. Rio

When drama spills tragically into reality and a person winds up dead, a troop of thespians must call upon their acting chops to free themselves from blame. Few books out there meet the prerequisites of dark academia as poignantly and elegantly as Rio’s IF WE WERE VILLAINS—with secret societies full of morally gray characters, death amid unhealthy devotion, and decadent Shakespearian aesthetics, this thriller has to be at the top of your list this graduation season.

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If We Were Villains
M. L. Rio

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Photo credit: iStock / Jelena990

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