5 Dark Academia Books You Can't Miss

May Seleste is the editor of Haunted Hallways: The Mallory Thorne School of Excellence, an anthology of stories set, over years of history, in the Mallory Thorne School of Excellence, an elite private school in England. The collection highlights Asian voices playing with conventions in the gothic horror and dark academia subgenres. We asked May to share her love for other dark academia titles to celebrate the publication date of Haunted Hallways, which is now available to order from your friendly neighborhood bookstore (or from Outland's web store)!

Why do we love dark academia so much? Is it the incorporation of the dark and eerie “other”? The celebration of gothic architecture, art, literature and the like? Or are we all just ex-emo/goths that grew to love academic validation and like wearing dark colours and plaids? Perhaps all of the above, perhaps none. Perhaps it’s a secret fourth thing, and it’s that very mystery that appeals to our collective unconscious and draws us to a life of shadowy libraries and erudition. When it comes to literature, we suspect that many titles already line the shelves of our readers. Below, we’ve collected some favourites from both myself and the authors that contributed to Haunted Hallways: The Mallory Thorne School of Excellence. So in no particular order…

In These Hallowed Halls edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane

The first is In These Hallowed Halls – an anthology comprised of twelve short stories mired in gothic architecture and whispering hallways. The collection contains works by many authors such as M. L. Rio (author of If We Were Villains), and Olivie Blake (author of The Atlas Six). With scandal, sorrow, and the occult, a series of enthralling stories await inside. In the words of one of our own Haunted Hallways contributors M. K. Sarraj: “It truly has something for everyone.”'

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Next is The Secret History, a 1992 novel about a group of classic literature students at an elite university. The story slowly unfolds through the eyes of one such student, taking readers on a journey that leads up to the death of their friend. Some could say it has everything one needs for a true dark academia experience—friendship, rivalries, murder, and the obsessive dark side that comes with intense passion. This novel, in particular, is one you’ll find that many can’t seem to get out of their head.

Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

A little different from the rest of this list, but all the more worth mentioning, Vita Nostra follows young Sasha Samokhina as she enters a peculiar school that she can’t quite comprehend. When the books, lessons, and environment don’t lend themselves to being easily understood, yet failure to flourish affects the students' families and not themselves, it definitely feels like an experience that some readers are too familiar with in the daunting land of academia. Some, like our very own contributor Ashley Deng, may note how it truly taps into the feelings of academic struggle in the face of severe consequence—whether perceived or real—and the satisfaction one gets when the pieces all finally fall in an “arcane” manner.

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Followers of contemporary literature will no doubt be familiar with this title. Ace of Spades is a YA thriller about two students embroiled in mystery and scandal as they face an anonymous antagonist akin to Gossip Girl, or “A” in Pretty Little Liars —except with a darker tone, and an academic setting. Aside from the gripping story, however, this novel also brings to light the racism and classism that oftentimes live in these elite academic establishments. As said by our own Mary Zambales, there remains a sense of being an “outsider,” despite seeming to be academically accepted on paper.

Babel by R. F. Kuang

Last but not least is Babel by R. F. Kuang, previously best known for her excellent trilogy The Poppy War (with Babel looming as her now best-known work, and a dark academia list would not be complete without it). Set in gloomy 1800s England at Oxford University, it follows main character Robin Swift, a Chinese boy adopted by an English academic, as he journeys through his life at Oxford. He is engulfed by the secrets of the university and their implications on the world. Similarly to Vita Nostra, it has its moments where it truly encompasses what it truly feels like to exist within academia, and the perilous effects of the immense pressure and near-obsession that accompanies it. However alongside this, it too touches on the ever-present racism, effects of colonialism, and again, the feeling of being “othered” whilst superficially accepted.

For more tales of dark academia and hauntings within the walls of an elite academy, pick up Haunted Hallways, now available!

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