Dark Academia: Eleven Titles From My Shelves

It’s almost time for Halloween Bingo on Booklikes, so I’ve been looking through my shelves to find books that might fit one of the new categories: Dark Academia.

Any mystery, suspense, supernatural or horror that takes place at a school – high school, college, boarding school, etc.

I’ve found eleven books on my shelves that work well for this category.

I’ve included four YA novels: an alternative Victorian magical fantasy, a spooky romance with ghosts and dark magic, a school for vampires story and a Holmes pastiche.

I’ve got two Golden Age crime fiction books, one contemporary crime fiction with a supernatural twist book and two intense American Private school thrillers and two in an English Grammar School.

A Question Of Proof “Nicholas Blake (C Day Lewis) 1935

Publisher’s Summary: The faculty and student body at Sudeley are shocked but scarcely saddened when the headmaster’s obnoxious nephew, Algernon Wyvern-Wemyss, is found dead in a haystack on Sports Day. 

But when the young English master, Michael Evans, becomes a suspect in the case, he’s greatly relieved when his clever friend Nigel Strangeways, who is beginning to make a name for himself as a private inquiry agent, shows up to lend a hand to the local constabulary. 

My Review: An amusing, unconventional Golden Age detective story that’s stronger on descriptive language and acute observation than on plot

“The Secret History” Donna Tartt 2004

Publisher’s Summary:Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

My View: Love it or be bored by it. Long, clever, maybe a bit on the trying too hard side but worth a read.

“Changeling” Molly Harper 2019

Publisher’s Summary: If 14-year-old Cassandra Reed makes it through her first day at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies without anyone discovering her secret, maybe, just maybe, she’ll let herself believe that she really does belong at Miss Castwell’s. Except Cassandra Reed’s real name is Sarah Smith and up until now, she lived her whole life in the Warren, serving a magical family, the Winters, as all non-magical “Snipes” are bound by magical Guardian law to do. That is, until one day, Sarah accidentally levitates Mrs. Winter’s favorite vase in the parlor….

My Review:
Set in an alternative England, ruled by “Guardian” families with magical abilities who, shortly after the start of the Industrial Revolution, seized power across the world in a coordinated coup called the Restoration. This is a wonderful bubble of Young Adult escapism dealing with all the usual conflicts between adolescents girls at school but amplified by Cassandra’s need to keep herreal identity secret, by the dark secrets that sit behind how the Guardian families maintain power and by a whole world of magic.

The Raven Boys” Maggie Stiefvater 2012

Publisher’s Summary: “There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

The Stranger Diaries” Elly Griffiths 2018

Publisher’s Summary: Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. A high school English teacher specializing in the Gothic writer R. M. Holland, she teaches a course on it every year. But when one of Clare’s colleagues and closest friends is found dead, with a line from R. M. Holland’s most famous story, “The Stranger,” left by her body, Clare is horrified to see her life collide with the storylines of her favorite literature. 

My Review: some excellent storytelling undermined by a very disappointing finish

“Marked” P C Cast and Kristin Cast 2007

Publisher’s Summary: The House of Night series is set in a world very much like our own, except in 16-year-old Zoey Redbird’s world, vampyres have always existed.  In this first book in the series, Zoey enters the House of Night, a school where, after having undergone the Change, she will train to become an adult vampire–that is, if she makes it through the Change.  Not all of those who are chosen do. 

My View: I know this is for teen girls but I fell in love with the first few books in the series as comfort reads. I thought the mother and daughter writing team pulled off a good partnership in well-crafted storytelling that had an authentically young feel to it.

“Gaudy Night” by Dorothy L Sayers 1935

Publisher’s Summary: The third Dorothy L. Sayers classic to feature mystery writer Harriet Vane, Gaudy Night is now back in print with an introduction by Elizabeth George, herself a crime fiction master. Gaudy Night takes Harriet and her paramour, Lord Peter, to Oxford University, Harriet’s alma mater, for a reunion, only to find themselves the targets of a nightmare of harassment and mysterious, murderous threats.

“A Study In Charlotte” by Brittany Cavallaro 2016

Publisher’s Summary: The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

My Review: Young Adult reboot of the Holmes and Watson where the great great grandchildren of the originals, Charlotte Holmes and James (don’t call me Jamie) Watson, find themselves at the same Vermont boarding school. Watson is an American, raised in London for most of his life and Holmes is a Brit exiled to America for her bad behaviour. It’s a fun romp, with flashes of originality, nuggets of insider humour and an unabashed exploitation of the Holmes brand.

“Brutal Youth” by Anthony Breznican 2014

Publisher’s Summary: Three freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that’s even worse. 

My View: you remember the Elvis Costello song: “Favourite Hour”

Now there’s a tragic waste of brutal youth
Strip and polish this unvarnished truth
The tricky door that gapes beneath the ragged noose
The crippled verdict begs again for the lamest excuse…

That’s what I’m hoping for here.

“Gentlemen and Players” Joanne Harris 2005

Publisher’s Summary: Audere, agere, auferre. To dare, to strive, to conquer. For generations, privileged young men have attended St. Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys, groomed for success by the likes of Roy Straitley, the eccentric Classics teacher who has been a fixture there for more than thirty years. But this year the wind of unwelcome change is blowing. Suits, paperwork, and information technology are beginning to overshadow St. Oswald’s tradition, and Straitley is finally, and reluctantly, contemplating retirement. He is joined this term by five new faculty members, including one who — unbeknownst to Straitley and everyone else — holds intimate and dangerous knowledge of St. Oswald’s ways and secrets. Harboring dark ties to the school’s past, this young teacher has arrived with one terrible goal: to destroy St. Oswald’s.

My Review: A brilliantly executed, clever thriller, this book is also a mainstream look at love, loyalty, duty, transgression and identity. Harris conjures up two powerful characters, an old-school Latin school master that I fell in love with and the killer who is brave, bright, and ruthless.

“A different class” Joanne Harris 2016

Publisher’s Summary: After thirty years at St Oswald’s Grammar in North Yorkshire, Latin master Roy Straitley has seen all kinds of boys come and go. Each class has its clowns, its rebels, its underdogs, its ‘Brodie’ boys who, whilst of course he doesn’t have favourites, hold a special place in an old teacher’s heart. But every so often there’s a boy who doesn’t fit the mould. A troublemaker. A boy with hidden shadows inside.

My View: I’m looking forward to this follow-up to “Gentlemen and Players”.

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