ARTICLE: Back to School Week – Dark Academia

Article contributed to Rad Babes Reads by @bookishwinterwitch

It’s Back to School week! And I cannot describe to you how badly I want to be going back to school this week. I am an academic at heart and I would be happy in school forever. I miss college and I can’t wait to go back and get the three degrees I still want. I have two. But I want more. SO while I wait, I like to read dark academia. Because nothing is more reminiscent of brick buildings, snow on the common, the smell of wet wool, and the sound of foreign languages and old classics, than dark academia. So I am here to rec some of my absolute faves! Get yourself ready.

The Historian

by Elizabeth Kostova

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To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history….Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor,” and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of, a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.

The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself–to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.

My Thoughts

This is honestly one of the most underrated books I’ve ever read. I don’t hear people talk about it a ton, which always shocks me. It’s dark and cerebral and atmospheric, and what is better than chasing Dracula across the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe, trying to destroy him before he destroys you? The answer is nothing. I desperately need to reread this book and it’s the PERFECT autumnal read. Slightly spooky, but classic and nuanced and so well written it’s painful. Highly recommend.

Brutal Youth

by Anthony Breznican

6BDA49BA-72CA-4B17-8AFA-308A536A3EDA.JPGThree freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that’s even worse in Anthony Breznican’s Brutal Youth

With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael’s has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal —so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.

To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive.

My Thoughts

I know I’ve recommended this book before on here, but it’s one of my absolute favorite books, and another one I’ve been wanting to reread soon. This is the epitome of dark academia for me, with the challenging of authority, both academic and religious, the bullying, the atmospheric nature of a Catholic school, the complicated relationships between the students. I loved everything about it and it’s unlike any other book I’ve read. So good, and you can’t stop thinking about it afterward.

People Like Us

by Dana Mele


Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple.

The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.

My Thoughts

This is another one I’ve recommended before, but it’s so good and I clearly have to do it. New England boarding school setting, LGBT rep, a murder (or suicide?), and a game of pranks played from beyond the grave. It’s spooky and cozy and surprising and perfect for the back to school season.

The Madwoman Upstairs

by Catherine Lowell

In this smart and enthralling debut in the spirit of The Weird Sisters and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt to find the family’s long-rumored secret estate, using clues her eccentric father left behind.

Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, she’s rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontë’s literary estate; diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts; a hidden fortune that’s never been shown outside of the family.

But Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesn’t exist. She has no interest in acknowledging what the rest of the world has come to find so irresistible; namely, the sudden and untimely death of her eccentric father, or the cryptic estate he has bequeathed to her.

But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father’s handwriting. As more and more bizarre clues arrive, Samantha soon realizes that her father has left her an elaborate scavenger hunt using the world’s greatest literature. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontë’s own writing.

A literary adventure from start to finish, this vibrant and original novel is a moving exploration of what it means when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.

My Thoughts

This is another completely unique book, and it’s ideal for Brontë lovers, like me. It’s mysterious and dark and collegiate and rainy. It would have to be, as it takes place in England. There’s a mystery and a ton of discussion of classic literature, so basically it was written with me in mind. So much unique commentary mixed in with a lovely story.


by V.E. Schwab


Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

My Thoughts

I’ve been debating with myself on whether or not this counts as dark academia, but I’m gonna go with yes. Experimentation on life and death and regeneration in a collegiate setting? Totally counts. This fantasy/sci-fi/dark academia hybrid is one of the best books I’ve ever read and I couldn’t put it down for a second. Seriously so dark and moody and spooky and exciting and you should all read it.

The Secret History

by Donna Tartt


Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

My Thoughts

I actually can’t have any thoughts on this one because I haven’t read it yet but no list of dark academia is complete without it so I had to include it.

Honorary Mention

The Deal Series

by Elle Kennedy


She’s about to make a deal with the college bad boy…

Hannah Wells has finally found someone who turns her on. But while she might be confident in every other area of her life, she’s carting around a full set of baggage when it comes to sex and seduction. If she wants to get her crush’s attention, she’ll have to step out of her comfort zone and make him take notice…even if it means tutoring the annoying, childish, cockycaptain of the hockey team in exchange for a pretend date.

…and it’s going to be oh so good

All Garrett Graham has ever wanted is to play professional hockey after graduation, but his plummeting GPA is threatening everything he’s worked so hard for. If helping a sarcastic brunette make another guy jealous will help him secure his position on the team, he’s all for it. But when one unexpected kiss leads to the wildest sex of both their lives, it doesn’t take long for Garrett to realize that pretend isn’t going to cut it. Now he just has to convince Hannah that the man she wants looks a lot like him.

My Thoughts

Ok this is not even a little bit dark academia. But I couldn’t not include my favorite college romances IN THE WORLD. Because I adore them to pieces and everyone needs to read them ok? It just has to happen. The synopsis for the first book is up there and it’s my favorite of the series so at least read that one mmkay?

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