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8 Dark Academia Books to *Fuel* You After Finals This Winter

Looking for an enticing dark read this winter? Here are 8 perfect dark academia book recommendations for young adults!

Dark academia background. Features dimly lit books and a black background.
Credit: Shutterstock/Jelena990

With the end of the school year, many students can agree to feeling utterly burnt out and exhausted. As winter break approaches, there seems like nothing better to do than to curl up under a warm blanket with a glass of steaming hot cocoa and a good book to keep company. One recommendation? Pick up a “dark academia” book!

Dark academia is both an aesthetic and a subgenre of book and film that focuses on the romanticization of art, literature, and other classics, typically taking place within a university setting. What better way to cope with end-of-semester burnout than to read about a bunch of pretentious young adults as they, too, take on the challenge of higher education?

If you’re a young adult looking for solace in other suffering students, these 8 dark academia titles are perfect for you!

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Book cover of "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt, the first dark academia book recommendation. Features a minimalistic beige background of a Greek sculpture.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Credit: Barnes & Noble

This would not be a dark academia recommendation article without mention of The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Riddled with mythology, ancient languages, dreary East Coast weather, and above all else, secrets, The Secret History is the blueprint for what a dark academia story should be.

This novel follows a group of eccentric yet genius college students who fall under the wing of a charming professor. However, their semester quickly takes a sour turn with the death of one of their peers. For the optimum reading experience, I think it’s best to go into this book relatively blind.

Though this one is a bit lengthy, if you are wondering if dark academia is the genre for you, The Secret History is the perfect book to start with.

2. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Book cover of "If We Were Villains" by M.L. Rio, the second dark academia recommendation. The cover has a black background featuring a dimly lit human skull. There is a thin, yellow illustrated sword running across the eye sockets. The title and author's name is written in white.
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. Credit: Amazon

If you love Shakespeare (and even if you don’t), you are sure to geek out over M.L. Rio’s If We Were Villains. This book is quite similar to The Secret History, as it features the dreary North Eastern liberal arts college and an exclusive group of bright young academics.

If We Were Villains differs, though, because it follows a group of young actors who are obsessively indulged in Shakespeare’s work. But before they know it, they find themselves scrambling to deal with one of their very own Shakespearean tragedies.

Much like The Secret History, this book is a good one to jump into blind. With commentary on hatred, love, and the danger of obsession, If We Were Villains is my personal favorite. It will surely have you on the edge of your seat the entire time.

3. Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang

Book cover of "Babel: An Arcane History" by R.F. Kuang. The cover is black and white and features an illustration of the Tower of Babel with a cityscape behind it. There is a gold sticker on this cover marking it as a Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition.
Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang. Credit: Barnes & Noble

Babel: An Arcane History is a modern-day classic of the dark academia genre. If you are interested in a novel with a rigorous academic setting laced with magic, this book is right down your lane.

Based on author R.F. Kuang’s own experience as a student at Oxford University, Babel explores not only the power that comes with knowledge, but also the violence that lurks in the academic world. Babel follows Robin Swift, a Chinese boy, as he trains at Oxford to join Babel, the world’s epicenter for language translation and magic.

Though this book has magical elements, this is not a typical lighthearted fantasy. Babel is a big commitment, but with a ton of stellar reviews, it is worth every single page.

4. Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Ikimide

Book cover of "Ace of Spades" by Faridah Abike-Iyimide. This cover is red with a white border, with a diamond pattern. There are illustrations of the two main characters, a female and a male. On the white border, there are two theatrical masks and the words "How do you stop an unknown enemy?".
Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-ikimide. Credit: Amazon

Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Ikimide is a dark academia book that has a much more high-stakes thriller vibe. An award-winning debut novel, Ace of Spades is definitely one that should not be flying under your radar.

Ace of Spades follows high-school seniors, Devon and Chiamaka, as their seemingly perfect year at their private school suddenly turns sour. When an anonymous texter by the name of Aces reveals all of Devon and Chiamaka’s deepest secrets, they will soon have to fight against all the odds stacked against them — and maybe even for their lives.

An intense but invigorating read with exceptional representation, Ace of Spades is sure to leave you stunned.

5. Legendborn by Tracy Deon

Cover of "Legendborn" by Tracy Deonn. The cover's background is blue. The cover focuses on an illustration of a young Black girl with curly hair. Her arms are held out in front of her, with blue magic swirling around one and red magic swirling around the other.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. Credit: Amazon

One of my personal favorites, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn is the perfect dark academia recommendation for fantasy lovers. With secret societies, mystery, magic, and wonderfully developed characters, there is nothing to not love about this book.

Legendborn follows Bree Matthews, a sixteen-year-old girl, in the aftermath of her mother’s untimely death. She gets accepted into a program for bring young high-schoolers at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she hopes to run away from her painful memories. However, at school, Bree somehow finds herself entangled in the web of a secret magical society that call themselves “Legendborn”. As Bree discovers her own magical powers, not only will she have to revel with the mystery of the Legendborn, but she will also have to revel with the mystery of her past.

Legendborn is an ongoing series, with the first two books already published and the third in the works. This series truly has one of the most fascinating magic systems I’ve ever seen. Truly, the perfect book if you like your academia with a little fantasy.

6. Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

Cover of "Anatomy: A Love Story" by Dana Schwartz. The cover is beige with a top-view of a redheaded girl in the center. The girl wears a red dress that is folded into the shape of a human heart.
Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz. Credit: Barnes & Noble

Historical fiction, beautiful prose, a budding romance, and a devoted examination into the early practices of medicine? Sign me up! Fortunately, this is a completed duology, with the sequel Immortality: A Love Story already out, so it’s perfect for a week-long book binge!

Immortality: A Love Story takes place in Scotland in the 19th century when the main role of women in society was to be a pretty face and a helping household hand merely. Hazel Sinnett, however, has always dreamed of becoming a surgeon and is determined to do whatever she must to achieve her dream. That dream just might come true when she crosses paths with Jack Currer, a boy who makes a living by digging up graves.

Anatomy: A Love Story has a lavish love story with a curious mixture of grotesque imagery. Despite the romance, the writing in this book is truly so thought-provoking. A great pick if you’re looking for a fulfilling, easy read.

7. Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Cover of "Vicious" by V.E. Schwab. The cover is solid red with a black silhouette  of a man in the center. There is a shadow behind the man composed of human bones.
Vicious by V.E. Schwab. Credit: Barnes & Noble

Maybe you’re looking for something gritty and ambitious? Something that puts the “dark” in dark academia? V.E. Schwab’s Vicious may be the perfect pick. Not to mention, this is also a completed duology with the equally compelling sequel, Vengeful.

Vicious follows Victor and Eli through multiple timelines, one during their senior year of college when they are best friends, and one ten years later when they are fierce enemies. This book deals with a zealous experiment gone wrong, and reckons with the idea that inheriting superpowers does not make someone inherently good.

Vicious is fast-paced and has delightfully short chapters. If you’re looking for something darker, this perfectly angsty series is a great one to binge during your free time!

8. A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

Cover of "A Lesson in Vengeance" by Victoria Lee. The cover has a black background with dark purple flowers and spiderwebs surrounding the title.
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee. Credit: Barnes & Noble

Last but certainly not least, A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee is the perfect dark academia book to pick up if you’re into witchcraft and a tantalizing queer romance.

A Lesson in Vengeance follows Felicity Morrow returning to her boarding school after the traumatizing death of her girlfriend. However, a peaceful school year is not what awaits Felicity as she finds herself drawn to her school’s dark history, specifically the mysterious deaths of five students. With the help of Ellis, a new student and gifted writer, Felicity tries her best to uncover the school’s secrets and the darkness that calls to her.

With whimsical prose and an equally whimsical storyline, A Lesson in Vengeance is the perfect title to grab if you’re looking for a thriller to keep your blood pumping this winter!

I can only hope I’ve inspired you to grab your trench coat, your reading glasses, and your pen and quill as you embrace your inner dark academic. While this is, of course, not an exhaustive list of dark academia books, these titles are a great place to start! Were any of your favorites featured? If not, what are your all-time favorite dark academia novels?

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