Must-read dark academia books

We've browsed the shelves of our candlelit library to bring you the best dark academia books to read now.

Enter a world of elite institutions, classical allusions, murky excess and corroded morals with our guide to the internet's favourite literary aesthetic. 

The Atlas Six

by Olivie Blake

Book cover for The Atlas Six

Secret society? Tick. Imposing depository of ancient knowledge? Tick. Morally dubious characters doing morally dubious things? Double tick.

Six hugely gifted magicians fight for a place in the Alexandrian Society, switching loyalties and lust objects as they go. The Society guards lost knowledge from ancient civilizations and its members enjoy a lifetime of power and prestige. Yet each decade, only six practitioners are invited – to fill five places. Following recruitment by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, the six travel to the Society’s London headquarters. Here, each must study and innovate within esoteric subject areas. And if they can prove themselves, over the course of a year, they’ll survive. Most of them.

The Atlas Paradox

by Olivie Blake

Book cover for The Atlas Paradox

In the second installment in the Atlas Six series, the secret society of Alexandrians is unmasked. Its newest recruits realize the institute is capable of raw, world-changing power. It’s also headed by a man with plans to change life as we know it – and these are already under way. But the cost of this knowledge is as high as the price of power, and each initiate must choose which faction to follow.

Further reading: The Atlas Six books in order and a guide to Olivie Blake

The Invisible Library

by Genevieve Cogman

Book cover for The Invisible Library

If you like your shadowy academics on the trans-dimensional librarian spy side, this is the series for you. The first book in a collection of seven, The Invisible Library introduces Irene, a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. Sent to retrieve a dangerous book from an alternative London, she arrives to find it's already been taken and that the city's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find it.

Find out more in our list of The Invisible Library books in order

The Secret History

by Donna Tartt

Book cover for The Secret History

Donna Tartt's debut is dark academia's origin story, frequently cited as the founding novel of the genre. An increasing sense of unease throbs through this unsettling elite college-set thriller, even though we know from the start how it's going to end. A group of (apparently) wealthy students, brought together by their eccentric classics professor, live an increasingly socially isolated, decadent lifestyle, which soon becomes murderous. 

Promise Boys

by Nick Brooks

Book cover for Promise Boys

Nick Brook's YA novel offers a contemporary take on the campus murder mystery, perfect for fans of Ace of Spades. Set in a prestigious prep school, students J.B., Ramón and Trey must find out who killed the school's Principal in order to clear their own names. An exquisitely taut thriller that shines a glaring light on how the system too often condemns Black and Latinx teen boys to failure before they’ve even had a chance at success.

The Maidens

by Alex Michaelides

Book cover for The Maidens

A literary thriller set amongst Cambridge classicists and secret sororities. Behind the beautiful façade of a Cambridge college lies a tangled web of jealousy and rage, radiating from an exclusive group of students called The Maidens. Throw in some murder, Greek mythology, and a sinister professor and you've got a modern classic of the genre.