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Dark Academia Books for Back to School

By Lauren Jones, Ana Matute and Zoe Doyle


It’s that time of year when schools and universities are preparing to open once again, the weather is cooling down and the leaves are changing colours. There is something about dark academia that goes perfectly with this time of year. Seen as both an aesthetic and genre, this subculture evokes Gothic architecture, dark wooden furniture, candlelight and the classical arts. Touted as the dark academia book of the year, the recent release Babel by R.F. Kuang explores this genre with a post-colonial critique and has many eager for more books in a similar vein.


Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger


A constant trial to her mother, fourteen-year-old Miss Sophronia Angelina Temminnick is far more interested in climbing trees than becoming a proper lady. Her mother enrols her in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, where Sophronia discovers that she is in for a comprehensive education: from dresses and dancing to death, deception and diversion, it’s easy to see how the title was coined.


Etiquette and Espionage is Carriger’s first young adult novel and is the first in the four-part Finishing School series. The novel is set in Victorian England and has some fun, fantastical twists – not limited only to werewolves! Etiquette and Espionage is a mixture of steampunk, fantasy, adventure and dark academia thanks to its gothic aesthetic and Victorian setting. While the plot meanders slightly on occasion, it gives way to detailed worldbuilding and solid foundations for future books in the series. The whimsical world and variety of characters are real highlights for us!


Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas


A university hidden in the woods where people will have to immerse themselves to enter and leave their lives outside while they study - this is Catherine House, located in the rural side of Pennsylvania. Ines Murillo arrives intending to dive into intellectual nights and research, leaving her painful past. Elisabeth Thomas will immerse you to a Victorian mood full of mystery as soon enough, Ines will discover that this intellectual place isn't just about learning, but secrets.


Catherine House is a slow-burn story with a narrative that will completely transport you to an atmosphere where "the days distended as winter melted into spring." It's a good option to start off the season with the mysterious Catherine House hallways and secrets, behind its image of being the paradise place to research and dive into books.


Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth


In 1902, two girls at a girls’ boarding school, Flo and Clara, are infatuated with each other and the memoir of Mary MacLane. Establishing a club called The Plain Bad Heroine Society, they meet in secret until their tragic deaths, stung by a swarm of angry yellow jackets. After a series of more mysterious deaths, the school closes. In the modern day, author Merritt Emmons publishes a book detailing the school’s history and inspires a horror film adaptation to be produced at the site of the abandoned school. Merritt and the two lead actresses arrive on set and reality and fiction begin to blur. Is making the horror film messing with their heads or is the school’s curse not a fable after all?


This novel is a story-within-a-story as both timelines are explored through the lens of the film being produced. It makes the book a rather long read but the aesthetic of the Gothic and mysterious boarding school makes it worth it. If the sound of a very queer dark academia horror novel set in Rhode Island appeals to you, then check this one out!


A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik


Galadriel “El” Higgins is a half-Welsh, half-Indian sorceress sent to a school for the magically gifted, the Scholomance. Unlike your typical school, there are no teachers or holidays here and monsters lurk everywhere. Failure will lead to death and half of the students do not survive graduation. El is a junior at the start of the novel and finds it difficult to make friends and allies, something that is very important to survive the school. She also hides a secret – she possesses a dark power that she attempts to hide.


A Deadly Education is the first in a young adult fantasy trilogy, the last of which was released this September. El is a rather caustic and irascible protagonist but her budding friendship with the golden boy, Orion, and other students at the school softens her rougher edges. There is a significant amount of worldbuilding but those who like a detail-oriented world will appreciate this. It evokes the likes of Harry Potter with its magical school setting but with higher stakes and a darker atmosphere.

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