It’s that time of year, ladies and gentlemen! The time of year when the fall gloom meets back-to-school season and rekindles the beloved dark academia aesthetic once again. I’ve always been a big fan of this subgenre because it leans into the melancholic side of autumn. Its hallmark characteristics usually include morally grey characters with academic genius or obsession, overcast by settings of haunting comfort. In other words, much of dark academia has a gothic edge.
The dark academia Bible, if you will, has long been Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which was released in 1992. More recent fan favorites in this literary niche include M.L.Rio’s If We Were Villains and Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House. That said, if you’re looking to broaden your horizons, here are 5 underrated dark academia books to dive into this fall.
The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman
It’s been twenty years since Jane Hudson was a student at the Heart Lake School for Girls. She now returns to the remote, lakeside school to serve as the new Latin teacher. However, returning to the institution where she spent her youth studying the Classics stirs up more than expected. The half-drowned memories of the tragic deaths of her two former roommates, Lucy and Diedre, hold weight even after all these years, and with ominous messages of a past mystery rising to the surface, Jane’s return quickly becomes a nightmare.
The Truants by Kate Weinberg
Jess Walker is a first-year student at an idyllic but haunting east Anglian university. She chose this school largely due to her obsession with the mysterious author, Lorna Clay, who is the new English professor on campus. Eventually, Jess’s journey and affiliation with a group of unstable, eccentric students bring her to a Mediterranean island, where things soon spiral out of control in a torrent of infatuation, deceit, and even death. If you like messy, misfit characters and atmospheric settings, this debut novel with a twist is just the thing.
A Lesson In Vengeance by Victoria Lee
For dark academia that treads into fantasy territory, Victoria Lee’s 2021 release is a must to check out. It follows Felicity Morrow, who returns to the beautifully ancient, ivy-covered campus of Dalloway School to finish her senior year thesis after a year away to process the tragic death of her girlfriend. Soon drawn to the new girl, Ellis Haley, a literary prodigy, Felicity gets sucked into the institution’s entrenched history of witchcraft, left to face the darkness lurking within Dalloway and herself.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young writer with a successful debut novel. Now, his creative efforts have seemingly dried out, going years without a noteworthy publication. Working as a writing teacher in an MFA program, Jacob meets an arrogant young talent in the likes of Evan Parker, who discloses the plot for his novel. The plot is brilliant and lingers in Jake’s jealous mind. One day, when he discovers his former student has died, he decides that the plot must be told and takes up the idea as his own. Skyrocketed to his long-desired literary esteem, Jake thinks he’s gotten away with it. Or has he?
The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue
Louisa is new at Temple House – an all-girls boarding school set on a cliffside mansion. Upon her arrival, she quickly forges a bond with the one other new girl, Victoria. However, their fierce friendship is soon complicated by a young art teacher named Mr.Lavelle. One day, both Louisa and Mr. Lavelle vanish without a trace. Twenty-five years after their disappearance, a journalist dives into the past in hopes of uncovering the truth behind the boarding school mystery, which houses a story of obsession, revenge, and power.
Looking for more reads to fuel your fall reading aesthetic? Click here.