Are You the Weapon or the Target?: The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Damn you, hype train, and your creation of excessively high expectations!

I was really, really hoping that this book would make all my fantasy-dark-academia dreams come true but, sadly, there were a few too many things missing for it to hit the high notes for me.

Who, What, Where?

Six of the most talented young magicians are chosen by The Alexandrian Society to be given the chance to join their ranks. It’s a secret society of advanced magical academics who act as caretakers for the prized knowledge of antiquity, and whose members usually rise to positions of wealth, power, and prestige. Candidates are to spend one year together with access to the believed lost Library of Alexandria, researching and experimenting in areas of arcane magic. The six include: Libby & Nico, rival cosmologists who control physical matter; Reina, a naturalist with a unique relationship with plants; Parisa, a telepath who relies on her looks and seduction skills to survive; Tristan, the son of a crime boss who can see past illusions; and Callum, an empath with terrifyingly powerful talents of persuasion. However, only five of them will be initiated.   

Playing Favourites

Although it’s called The Atlas Six, this book often feels like The Atlas Four and, even then, there’s an imbalance. While I understand that authors have their favourites, it’s important that other characters’ development doesn’t suffer because of it. Despite the rotating third-person POV, which I really liked, I feel as though I know very little about Callum and Reina and that both were underutilised considering their potential. In Callum’s case it’s problematic because of the villain-ish type role the story wants him to fill. Like, yes, his powers are terrifying, but I need more. With Reina, it’s almost as though she could have been deleted from the book and barely anything would have changed. It’s frustrating because from the small carrots that were dangled, there’s clearly so much more to explore.

Within “The Atlas Four”, I enjoyed Parisa, Nico and Libby (I’m torn on Tristan). They’re not exactly likeable characters – that’s dark academia for you – but there’s depth and intrigue there. The dynamics each of them has with the others are compelling, although often more about a power struggle than emotional connection – something the book could have done with more of. The level of conversation between the characters generally is also somewhat limited considering the story’s circumstances. Still, there’s something enthralling about a group of morally ambiguous magicians constantly alternating between the 3 states of – I want to f*** you, I want to kill you, and I need to remind you that I’m the hottest shit here. Make of that what you will.

Philosophical and Indulgent Prose

I genuinely believe I would have rated TAS a lot higher if I and the writing style had meshed better. There were times when I’d be really feeling it but then, suddenly, a switch would flip and the next thing I knew, everything sounded so overcomplicated, indulgent, and pretentious…The dialogue, especially, tended to quickly veer into this territory. For example:

“Every single one of us is missing something. We are all too powerful, too extraordinary, and don’t you see it’s because we’re riddled with vacancies? We are empty and trying to fill, lighting ourselves on fire just to prove that we are normal – that we are ordinary. That we, like anything, can burn.”

Perhaps I’m too simple-minded or impatient for this type of poetic and philosophising purple-prose. All I know is that if I were to describe dark academia as a writing style rather than just a genre, it’d be this book.


If you’re a reader who prefers plot-heavy novels, this won’t be for you. The opening chapters are great – not only as an intriguing hook but a fantastic introduction to the characters. After this, The Atlas Six rests largely on vibes and The Six themselves, at least until towards the end. It’s slowly paced, and most scenes are devoted to the characters reading/conducting research, having subtext-filled one-on-one conversations, and thinking A LOT. To an extent, I was okay with this because the characters were interesting and the tension was high. However, I’ll admit that I expected there to be much more structure to the initiation year – goals, more in-depth lessons, measures of success/failure, etc., but that wasn’t the case, and it felt somewhat odd and empty as a result.

The book does include a couple of plot twists. The first falls kind of flat, mainly because we’re aware of the gist of it from the blurb & prologue, but also because it bizarrely fizzles out by the end. The later twists, on the other hand, are much stronger and tease an exciting sequel.

Vaguely Scientific-Magic

I have no idea what was going on with the magic in this book. At a surface level, I can see that Blake was going for a scientific approach as we get mentions of things like gravity, matter, patterns of thought, and so on. The way these were utilised to explain aspects of magic in specific scenes was fine. However, the problem lies in that there’s no explanation for how magic works broadly. For instance – how are spells cast? Or, what governs the categories of magic magicians can do spells from? For example, others can perform aspects of Nico & Libby’s specialty but no one else seems capable of what Callum or Parisa can do. Honestly, I’m just lost.

Then, we have the world-building around magic, which is similarly vague. We’re made aware that magic users in this world are out in the open but not told much about what the world looks like. How do magic users fit into society? How has history deviated? Are magicians accepted? I feel like there’s so much potential, but I’ll have to wait until the sequel to see if it’s realised.

Overall, not a perfect read but enjoyable enough to convince me to continue with the series.

3 Stars

The Dark Academia Reading List: 49 Books of Tragedy, Elitism, Secrets, Violence and the Pursuit of Knowledge

Quick Links (To Help Navigate this monstrosity of a post):

What is Dark Academia?

As you might already be aware, dark academia is both an aesthetic and a genre. When it comes to the aesthetic, at its heart it’s a subculture that revolves around education and the enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge. A romanticisation of learning, as it were. There’s a particular focus on the liberal arts – classic languages like Latin and Greek, history, literature, poetry, philosophy, and often a connection with old school universities like Oxford or Cambridge. As a result, it’s quite Eurocentric, a little on the pretentious side, and frequently involves some not so great approaches towards mental health, so it’s important to be aware of these flaws.

The overall vibe of DA could best be summed up as vintage meets Gothic. Think upper class 1930/40s fashion with plenty of tweed, layering and autumn colour schemes, moody weather, old & musty libraries, journaling and letter writing, classical music, dinner parties, and late night drinking sessions involving plenty of intellectual discussion.

Dark Academia as a Genre

The dark academia genre is often said to have taken off following the popularity of Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel, The Secret History. While a lot of people seem to believe that dark academia is simply a mystery in an academic setting, there’s more to it than that. More often than not, DA books are actually coming of age stories, twisted and bleak ones, but learning experiences for characters all the same.

So, what are some of the features of dark academia stories?

  1. An Academic Setting
    • Usually prestigious and somewhat isolated, e.g. boarding school, university, library etc.
  2. Emphasis on Knowledge and Learning
    • Allusions to the fine arts, potential forbidden knowledge or dark avenues of study
  3. “Darker” Themes and a Preoccupation with Ideas Surrounding Life & Death
    • Some popular themes are hubris, revenge, temptation, jealousy, obsession and paranoia
  4. A Tragedy
    • One the reader foresees/is forewarned about
    • Usually a death, one the protagonist was involved in somehow
  5. Close-Knit Groups of Individuals
    • A group of friends or secret society
    • Probably has toxic foundations
  6. Adult Authority Figure
    • Who abuses their power or exercises influence in damaging ways
  7. Damaging Secrets that Eat Away at the Characters
  8. Social & Economic Disparities + Fish-Out-of-Water Scenarios
    • DA deals with elitism and privilege, and how this can result in moral ambiguity, apathy, and arrogance
    • The protagonist is distinct from the privileged characters and acts as the reader’s window into their world
  9. Lavish Prose
    • Plenty of imagery, lengthy dialogue and internal monologuing

Not every book in this post ticks off all the dark academia elements above (particularly the learning and knowledge focus). If I were being stricter, the list would be a lot shorter. However, because I know people likely have broader views about what DA is than me, especially when it comes to YA reads, I’ve included some books that are more in the vein of ‘mystery/thriller in an academic setting’, too.

Now for the fun part, the list of DA reads! I’ll clarify in advance, I have not read anything close to every book on this list but rest assured, I’ve done LOTS of research to compile it. Hopefully you find something that floats your boat.

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Adult Dark Academia

Let’s just get the obvious one out of the way first, yes?

The Secret History – Donna Tartt


After being accepted to an exclusive New England College, Californian Richard Pappen falls in with an exclusive, eccentric and clever group of classics students led by charismatic professor, Julian Morrow. Under Julian’s tutelage, the students are taught a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when an attempt at completing a Bacchian rite ends in tragic consequences, the group is pushed to take extraordinary lengths to cover it up. In the aftermath, secrets come out, relationships are tested and their lives are changed forever. I really enjoyed this book and it’s a must read for anyone wanting to give DA a go.

Alright, moving on…

Frankenstein – Mary Shelly

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A classic literature example of the dark academia genre as well as the aesthetic. Obsessed with creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the materials to fashion a new being, one which he shocks into life with electricity. To Frankenstein’s dismay, the resulting creature is a twisted, parody of a man. Rejected by his creator and denied human companionship, the creature sets out to destroy Frankenstein and all that he holds dear. A disturbing and dramatic exploration of birth and death, creation and destruction, Frankenstein is one of the most iconic horror stories of all time.

They Never Learn – Layne Fargo


Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor and even better at getting away with murder. Every year, she tracks down and kills the worst man at Gorman University and so far, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself. But as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the deaths on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Scarlett insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge, Dr. Mina Pierce. Everything’s going according to plan…until she makes a mistake with her latest victim. Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Free of her abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies but her roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay. This is one of the ‘thriller/mystery in an academic setting’ books I mentioned.

The Likeness – Tana French

Also see ‘The Secret Place’ by Tana French

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Traumatised by her brush with a psychopath, Detective Cassie Maddox transfers out of the Murder squad and starts a relationship with fellow detective Sam O’Neill. Then Sam calls her to a crime scene: a woman stabbed to death outside Dublin who looks exactly like Cassie. What’s more, her ID identifies her as Lexie Madison – the identity Cassie used years ago as an undercover detective. With no leads or clue to Lexie’s identity, Cassie’s old boss spots the perfect opportunity: say the stab wound wasn’t fatal and send Cassie undercover. It’s crazy, but Cassie is drawn not only to the prospect of working again but assuming the victim’s identity as a graduate student and infiltrating her close-knit group of secretive, intelligent, odd friends. As she is drawn into Lexie’s world, Cassie realizes that the girl’s secrets run deeper than imagined and she’ll have to tread carefully if she wants to tempt the killer out of hiding to finish the job. This is the second book in a series but they can be read out of order without difficulty.

For Your Own Good – Samantha Downing


Teddy Crutcher has won Teacher of the Year at the esteemed Belmont Academy, home to the best and brightest. He says his wife couldn’t be more proud—though no one has seen her in a while. Teddy really can’t be bothered with the death of a school parent that’s looking more and more like murder or the student digging a little too deep into Teddy’s personal life. His main focus is on pushing these kids to their full academic potential. All he wants is for his colleagues—and the endlessly meddlesome parents—to stay out of his way. It’s really too bad that sometimes excellence can come at such a high cost.

Catherine House – Elisabeth Thomas

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I wasn’t so sure about including this one due to mixed reviews but if you’re big on atmosphere over plot, this might be for you. Hidden in the woods of Pennsylvania, Catherine House is a liberal arts school like no other. With an experimental curriculum, selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, it has produced the world’s best minds. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years completely removed from the outside world. Among this year’s class is Ines, who expects to trade partying, pills and boys for rigorous intellectual study – only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The students are encouraged to explore, expand their minds, and find themselves and their place within Catherine. But is it all too good to be true? Is there something sinister hiding beneath the school’s shabby splendor, hallowed history and advanced curriculum?

In My Dreams I Hold a Knife – Ashley Winstead


Ten years after graduation, Jessica Miller has planned her triumphant return to Duquette University. Everyone is going to see the girl she wants them to see, not who she was when she left campus, back when Heather’s murder fractured everything, including the tight bond linking the six friends she’d been closest to since freshman year. Ten years ago, everything fell apart, including the dreams she worked for her whole life—and her relationship with the one person she wasn’t supposed to love. But not everyone is ready to move on. Not everyone left Duquette ten years ago, and not everyone can let Heather’s murder go unsolved. Someone is determined to make the guilty pay. When the six friends are reunited, they will be forced to confront what happened that night—and the years’ worth of secrets each of them would do anything to keep hidden.

These Violent Delights – Micah Nemerever

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This book is definitely big on the dark themes part of DA. When Paul enters university in 1970s Pittsburgh, he hopes to move past the recent death of his father. Sensitive, insecure, and incomprehensible to his grieving family, Paul feels isolated and alone. When he meets the worldly Julian in his ethics class, Paul is immediately drawn to his charm. Paul sees Julian as his sole intellectual equal and wants nothing more than to prove himself worthy of their friendship. But as charismatic as he may be, Julian is also volatile and cruel, and Paul becomes increasingly afraid he will never live up to Julian’s expectations. As their friendship spirals into all-consuming intimacy, they each learn the lengths to which the other will go to stay together, their obsession ultimately hurtling them toward an act of irrevocable violence.

Confessions- Kanae Minato


Confessions is another one of those academic setting mystery/thriller books but it has such good reviews, I had to include it. This is a Japanese translation so yay for some diversity. After calling off her engagement in wake of a tragic revelation, Yuko Moriguchi had nothing to live for except her only child, four-year-old Manami. Now, following an accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches, Yuko has given up and tendered her resignation. But first she has one last lecture to deliver. She tells a story that upends everything her students ever thought they knew about two of their peers, and sets in motion a maniacal plot for revenge.

Plain Bad Heroines – Emily Danforth

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In 1902, Flo and Clara are students of The Brookhants School for Girls, obsessed with each other and the author of a scandalous memoir, Mary MacLane. The girls establish a private club, The Plain Bad Heroine Society, and meet secretly in a nearby apple orchard. That is, until their deaths at the hands of a swarm of angry yellow jackets, a copy of Mary’s book found beside them. Five years, and three mysterious deaths later, the school closes its doors. A century later, the abandoned Brookhants returns to the news when Merritt Emmons publishes a breakout book celebrating its queer, feminist history. The book inspires a horror film starring lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing ill-fated heroine Flo, and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants reopens its gates and our heroines arrive to begin filming, past and present become entangled and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.

Kill All Your Darlings – David Bell


Not to be confused with the film Kill Your Darlings (they’re completely different). 2021 seems to be all about plagiarism thrillers. After years of struggling to write following the deaths of his wife and son, English professor Connor Nye publishes his first novel, a thriller about the murder of a young woman. There’s just one problem: Connor didn’t write the book. His missing student did. And then she appears on his doorstep, alive and well, threatening to expose him. Connor’s problems escalate when the police insist details in the novel implicate him in an unsolved murder. Soon Connor discovers the crime is part of a disturbing scandal on campus and faces an impossible dilemma–admit he didn’t write the book and lose his job or keep up the lie and risk everything. When another murder occurs, Connor must clear his name by unraveling the horrifying secrets buried in his student’s manuscript.

Bunny – Mona Awad

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Bunny falls on the highly bizarre, absurdist, black comedy side of the Dark Academia scale (like The Secret History on a huge LSD trip). It’s about a scholarship student named Samantha Mackey who’s a bit of an outsider in her selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. That is, until she receives an invitation to join the Bunnies (a clique of rich girls who call each other “Bunny” and move & speak as one) at their fabled “Smut Salon”. Ditching her friend Ava, Samantha gets lost deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of the Bunnies’ sinister world. As she begins to take part in their ritualistic off-campus “Workshop” where they conjure monstrous creations, the edges of reality start to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.

The Lake of Dead Languages – Carol Goodman

Also see Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman


Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson left the Heart Lake School for Girls after a terrible tragedy. Now she has returned to its isolated shores as a Latin teacher, hoping to make a fresh start. But ominous messages from the past dredge up forgotten memories she’d rather stayed buried. Since freshman year, Jane and her roommates, Lucy Toller and Deirdre Hall, were inseparable – studying the classics, performing rituals on the lake, and sneaking out after curfew. However, the last winter before graduation, everything changed. Three lives were taken, all victims of senseless suicide. Now pages from Jane’s missing journal written at the time have reappeared, revealing shocking, long-buried secrets. And suddenly, young, troubled girls are beginning to die again . . . as piece by piece the shattering truth slowly floats to the surface.

The Maidens – Alex Michaelides


Not one of my favourites, but it still meets the DA brief. Mariana Andros is a London-based group therapist still reeling from the tragic death of her husband a year prior. But when her niece Zoe calls from Cambridge after her friend, Tara, is found murdered, Mariana quickly finds herself caught up in the investigation. Of particular interest is Edward Fosca, the charismatic Greek tragedy professor and Tara’s potential lover, known for heading an exclusive, all female “study group” (aka secret society) known around campus as ‘The Maidens’. As Mariana looks closer at the crime and more bodies start to turn up, the more convinced she becomes that Fosca is the guilty party, alibis be damned. But how to find the evidence to prove it?

Black Chalk – Christopher J. Yates


It was only ever meant to be a game played by six best friends in their first year at Oxford University; a game of consequences, silly forfeits, and childish dares. But then the game changed: The stakes grew higher and the dares more personal and more humiliating, finally evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results. Now, fourteen years later, the remaining players must meet again for the final round. Who knows better than your best friends what would break you?

The Bellwether Revivals – Benjamin Wood


Bookish Oscar Lowe has made a life for himself amid the colleges of Cambridge and yet is a world apart from the students who study in the hallowed halls. But when Oscar is lured into the chapel at King’s College by the ethereal sound of an organ, he meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether, a beautiful and enigmatic medical student. He follows her into a world of scholarship, wealth, and privilege, and becomes embroiled in the machinations of her older brother, Eden. A charismatic but troubled musical prodigy, Eden persuades his sister and their circle of friends into a series of disturbing experiments. He believes that music — with his unique talent to guide it — has the power to cure, and will stop at nothing to prove himself right. As the line between genius and madness blurs, Oscar fears danger could await them all.

My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell

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This is quite a different type of DA read than others on this list, probably because of the lack of murder, but it still fits. 2000. bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic forty-two-year-old English teacher. 2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her? Or is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager may be far different from what she has always believed?

The Truants – Kate Weinberg

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Jess Walker has come to a concrete campus under the flat gray skies of East Anglia for one reason: to be taught by the mesmerizing and rebellious Dr. Lorna Clay, whose seminars soon transform Jess’s thinking on life, love, and Agatha Christie. Swept up in Lorna’s thrall, Jess falls in with a tightly knit group of rule-breakers–Alec, a courageous South African journalist with a nihilistic streak; Georgie, a seductive, pill-popping aristocrat; and Nick, a handsome geologist with layers of his own. But the dynamic between the friends begins to darken, until a tragedy shatters their friendships and love affairs, and reveals a terrible secret. Soon Jess must face the question she fears most: what is the true cost of an extraordinary life?

Summer Sons – Lee Mandelo


This is a 2021 September release so be on the lookout. Andrew and Eddie were best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge. As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.

Never Saw Me Coming – Vera Kurian

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian - Penguin Books Australia

Another September 2021 release. It’s a thriller but definitely falls under dark avenues of academia. Meet Chloe Sevre: a freshman honor student and leggings-wearing hot girl next door, who also happens to be a psychopath. Her hobbies include yogalates, frat parties, and plotting to kill Will Bachman, a childhood friend who grievously wronged her. Chloe is one of seven students at her DC-based college who are part of an unusual clinical study for psychopaths. The study, led by a renowned psychologist, requires them to wear smart watches that track their moods and movements. When one of the students in the study is found murdered in the psychology building, a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins, and Chloe goes from hunter to prey. As she races to identify the killer and put her own plan into action, she’ll be forced to decide if she can trust any of her fellow psychopaths—and everybody knows you should never trust a psychopath.

YA Dark Academia

If We Were Villains – R L Rio

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One of my favourite DA reads. If you’re a Shakespeare fan, this will be right up your alley. Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago. As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.

The Orchard – David Hopen


Ari Eden’s life has always been governed by strict rules. In ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn, his lonely days are dedicated to intense study and religious rituals. So when his family announces that they are moving to Miami, Ari seizes the chance for reinvention. Enrolling in an opulent Jewish academy, Ari is stunned by his peers’ wealth and ambition. When the academy’s golden boy, Noah, takes Ari under his wing, Ari finds himself entangled in the school’s most exclusive group. These friends are magnetic and defiant—especially Evan, the brooding genius of the bunch. Influenced by their charismatic rabbi, the group begins testing their religion in unconventional ways. Soon Ari and his friends are pushing moral boundaries and careening toward a perilous future—one in which the traditions of their faith are repurposed to mysterious, tragic ends.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl

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After a childhood moving from one academic outpost to another with her father (a man prone to aphorisms and meteoric affairs), Blue van Meer is clever, deadpan, and possessed of a vast lexicon of literary, political, philosophical, and scientific knowledge—and is quite the cineaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the elite (and unusual) St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina, Blue falls in with a charismatic group of friends and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider. But when the drowning of one of Hannah’s friends and the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries, Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her gimlet-eyed instincts and cultural references to guide—or misguide—her. 

Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson

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Sixteen-year-old Stevie has an obsession with all things crime. Podcasts, mystery fiction, cold cases, you name it – Stevie is the expert and she dreams of one day becoming a great detective. When she’s accepted into the exclusive, and extravagantly funded, Ellingham Academy, Stevie is surprised but also excited. Founded in the 1930s by business tycoon, Albert Ellingham, the school is famous for its troubled past involving two murders and the kidnapping of Ellingham’s family, all unsolved. The only clue in the case: a morbid poem sent by someone known only as ‘Truly Devious’. When given the opportunity to choose a personal project, Steve’s choice is simple – solve the Ellingham murders. But when one of the students in her class dies mysteriously, Stevie begins to realise that perhaps real-life detective work is different from what she expected.

The Mary Shelly Club – Goldy Moldavsky


New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends. To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own. When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past.

Ace of Spades – Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé


When Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. Not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian. Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by ‘Aces’ begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them, threatening their carefully planned futures. As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become deadly?

The Ivies – Alexa Donne

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Everyone knows the Ivies: the most coveted universities in the United States. Far more important are the Ivies. The Ivies at Claflin Academy, that is. Five girls with the same mission: to get into the Ivy League by any means necessary. Even if it means disrupting class rankings or sabotaging academic competitions. In order to best secure their chances, each of the Ivy girls agree to apply to a different school, thus stopping them from competing against one another. As you might imagine, things don’t exactly turn out that way. When one of the Ivies turns up dead mere hours after being accepted into a different school than the one allocated to her, the question becomes: was it one of her friends taking out revenge or another student finally taking matters into their own hands?

The Year of the Gadfly – Jennifer Miller


Mariana Academy was founded with a serious honor code; its reputation has been unsullied for decades. Now a long-dormant secret society, Prisom’s Party, threatens its placid halls with vigilante justice, exposing students and teachers for even minor infractions. Iris Dupont, a budding journalist, feels sure she can break into the ranks of The Devil’s Advocate, the Party’s underground newspaper, and uncover the source of its blackmail schemes and vicious rumours. Some involve the school’s new science teacher, who also seems to be investigating the Party. Others point to an albino student who left school abruptly ten years before, never to return. And everything connects to a rare book called Marvelous Species. But the truth comes with its own dangers, and Iris is torn between her allegiances, her reporter’s instinct, and her own troubled past.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson


This one doesn’t have an academic setting BUT it does revolve around a school project with a dark topic. Pretty and popular, senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town. But she can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to it. She knew Sal and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer? Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her major project. She soon discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent… and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

How We Fall Apart – Katie Zhao


Nancy Luo is shocked when her former best friend, Jamie Ruan, top ranked junior at Sinclair Prep, goes missing, and then is found dead. Nancy is even more shocked when word starts to spread that she and her friends–Krystal, Akil, and Alexander–are the prime suspects, thanks to “The Proctor,” someone anonymously incriminating them via the school’s social media app. They all used to be Jamie’s closest friends, and she knew each of their deepest, darkest secrets. Now, somehow The Proctor knows them, too. The four must uncover the true killer before The Proctor exposes more than they can bear and costs them more than they can afford. Soon, Nancy suspects that her friends may be keeping secrets from her, too.

The Basic Eight – Daniel Handler

The Basic Eight eBook : Handler, Daniel: Kindle Store

So apparently Lemony Snicket also writes dark academia. Meet Flannery Culp, a world-weary high-school senior. She is primed to take on the few remaining obstacles that stand between her and the rest of her life: the SAT, college applications, the fall semester….Mercifully, there are a few distractions: 1) her friends, the Basic Eight and 2) Adam State, the object of her affections. If only things hadn’t gotten out of control. If only Flan had stayed away from the absinthe. Then she wouldn’t be a topic on daytime talk shows, or incarcerated, or have time to edit her journals…. 

One of Us is Lying – Karen M. McManus

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Had to include this fan favourite – even though it’s more along the lines of mystery in an academic setting. Five students enter detention. Less than an hour later, one of them is dead. Our suspects: Addy, the popular girl who can’t seem to do anything without her boyfriend. Cooper, the rising, young baseball star with a wicked fastball. Nate, the school drug dealer, currently on probation and the easy scapegoat. And Bronwyn, top of her class and destined for Yale. All have secrets, but which of them murdered Simon, Bayview High’s resident blogger and gossip king, to stop them getting out?

S.T.A.G.S – M. A. Bennett

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At St. Aidan the Great School, or S.T.A.G.S., new things, and new people, are to be avoided. Unfortunately, Greer MacDonald, scholarship student, is very much a new person. Usually ignored or mocked by the schools most admired circle of friends, The Medievals, Greer is surprised when they offer her an invitation to attend an exclusive weekend retreat at a private estate. It’s billed as a weekend of “huntin’ shootin’ fishin’,” and rumor has it that the invitee who most impresses the group will be given the privilege of becoming a Medieval themselves. As the weekend begins to take shape, however, it becomes apparent that beyond the fancy clothes and elaborate multi-course dinners, there are predators lurking, and they’re out for blood…

Looking for Alaska – John Green

Looking For Alaska :HarperCollins Australia

I can hear you saying ‘WHAT?’ from here. Yes, when you compare LfA with the DA list above, it ticks a lot of boxes. School setting, dark themes, a tragedy, discussions about life, death and literature…You see what I mean? Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . . After. Nothing is ever the same.

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Magical Dark Academia

Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo


This book is all kinds of dark academia. Ninth House introduces an alternate Yale where rich and powerful members of eight secret societies engage in dangerous occult rituals dealing with everything from necromancy and portal magic to shape-shifting. These societies are kept in check by a small ninth house, Lethe. Every three years Lethe recruits a freshman, opening their eyes to the uses and dangers of magic. Twenty-year old Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern is a high school drop-out from LA with the ability to see ghosts. After somehow surviving an unsolved multiple homicide, Alex is mysteriously offered a scholarship to Yale and the freshman position in Lethe. The book alternates between two storylines- winter & spring. The former deals with Alex’s arrival at Yale and her learning about magic and the societies. The latter follows her investigating the death of a young woman on campus with several unexplained connections to the societies.

A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik A Deadly Education: A Novel (The Scholomance Book 1) eBook:  Novik, Naomi: Kindle Store

In A Deadly Education, our lead is Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins, a loner teenage witch with a talent for destructive magic and a dark, end the world type prophecy hanging over her head. El is currently in her penultimate year at Scholomance, an international school for young mages with a frightening survival rate. Dropping out isn’t an option so students have little choice but to push through their coursework whilst trying to avoid getting eaten by one of the many monsters (maleficaria or ‘mals’) lurking throughout the school’s corridors and crevices. And even then, they still have to make it through graduation – a monster-mage blood bath of epic proportions, survival of which depends largely on students’ ability to form alliances. However, this school year has proven to be more deadly than normal and if she wants to see it through, El might just need to start finding some allies.

The Atlas Six – Olivie Blake

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This book has been on my TBR for forever and it sounds so good. Every ten years, six unique and talented magicians are chosen to be considered as initiates into the Alexandrian Society, a secret group of magical academicians who act as caretakers of lost knowledge from great civilisations of antiquity. Yet, only five will make the cut and receive power, wealth and prestige. Enter: Libby and Nico, who exert control over elements of physicality. Reina, who intuits the language of life. Parisa, a telepath who can traverse the subconscious. Callum, an empath who can influence the workings of a person’s inner self. And Tristan who sees through illusions to a new structure of reality. Recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they will have a year to qualify for initiation and will be judged on their contributions to subjects of impossibility: time and space, luck and thought, and life and death. Most of them will succeed. Most of them.

A Lesson in Vengeance – Victoria Lee


This one’s slightly less outright ‘magical’ than others, but I’m including it here anyway. After dropping out following the death of her girlfriend, Alex, Felicity Morrow has returned to Dalloway School. She’s even back in her old dormitory, said to be haunted by the spirits of The Dalloway Five – a group of girls gruesomely and mysteriously killed centuries prior who some believe were witches. The school doesn’t like to talk about its troubled history, but the students do. Before Alex’s death Felicity was researching the deaths as part of her senior thesis but she’s now determined to leave it all behind her. However, she soon finds herself drawn to new student Ellis Haley, a prodigy novelist similarly researching the Dalloway Five. When Ellis asked Felicity for help, she can’t bring herself to say no. But when history starts to repeat itself and new information comes to light about Alex’s death, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway and in herself.

A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

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If you’d like some heavy romance with your fantasy dark academia, this is the book. Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from a distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of magical creatures soon descends upon the library. Among them is the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist who Diana is inexplicably drawn towards. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels. For, little does she know, Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries and she is the only one who can break its spell.

The Devil Makes Three – Tori Bovalino


Tess Matheson only wants three things: time to practice her cello, her sister to be happy, and for everyone else to leave her alone. Instead, she finds herself working all summer at her boarding school library, shelving books and dealing with the intolerable patrons. The worst of them is Eliot Birch: snide, privileged, and constantly requesting forbidden grimoires. After a bargain with Eliot leads to the discovery of an ancient book in the library’s collection, the pair accidentally unleash a book-bound demon. The demon will stop at nothing to stay free, threatening those Tess loves and dismantling Eliot’s strange magic. Tess is plagued by terrible dreams of the devil and haunting memories of a boy who wears Eliot’s face. All she knows is to stay free, the demon needs her… and he’ll have her, dead or alive.

The Magicians – Lev Grossman


I’m much more a fan of the TV adaptation, but I’d be remiss by not including this book under this section. Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of children’s fantasy novels, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey

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This book has some dark themes but the way it’s written makes it feel a lot lighter than it actually is. Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magical. She is perfectly happy with her life. She has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha. But when Ivy is hired by the headmistress to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

Piranesi – Susanna Clarke

Also see Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

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I can’t explain why this is DA without spoilers so you’ll just have to accept that it fits. Advance warning though, it’s a weird example of it. Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands of statues, each one different from the rest. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house. There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

The Furies – Katie Lowe

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Like A Lesson in Vengeance, this is less ‘magic’ than the other books in this section but because of witchcraft, it’s here. In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on school property, dressed in white and posed on a swing, with no known cause of death. In the present, our narrator Violent looks back on that night and the series of events that led to it. After an accident involving her family, Violet joins Elm Hollow Academy, a private girls school in a quiet coastal town known as the site of famous 17th century witch trials. Violet is soon invited to join an advanced study group, alongside Robin, Grace, and Alex – led by charismatic art teacher, Annabel. While Annabel claims her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals, warning the girls off the topic, the girls start to believe magic is real and they can harness it. But when a former member of the society is found dead nine months after she disappeared, Violet begins to wonder whether she can trust her friends, teachers, or even herself.

Vicious – V E Schwab

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You can’t go wrong with a Schwaby read. Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl with a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

Nevernight – Jay Kristoff

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Couldn’t resist the chance to use one of my favourite books. Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined. Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest group of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to her vengeance. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Vita Nostra – Sergey and Marina Dyachenko


A Ukrainian approach to fantasy dark academia. While vacationing, Sasha Samokhina meets the strange and sinister Farit Kozhennikov. When Farit directs her to perform a task, Sasha finds herself powerless to refuse in the face of potentially terrible consequences. As the days go on, Sasha continues to carry out tasks for Farit until eventually he directs her to enter the mysterious Institute of Special Technologies. Even though she doesn’t wish to go, Sasha feels like the school is where she should be and so begins her education. She soon discovers that the institute’s “special technologies” are unlike anything she’s ever encountered. The books are impossible to read, lessons maddeningly obscure, and work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school punishes their families for transgressions and failures. Despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of . . . and suddenly all she could ever want.

Middegame – Seanan McGuire

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Not a favourite of mine but popular with many others. Roger and Dodger are twins. While Roger has always had an aptitude for words and languages, his sister views the world in numbers and equations. Having grown up at opposite ends of the country, the two only meet when they realise that they have a psychic connection with one another. Little do they know that they are the carefully crafted experiments of an alchemist named James Reed, designed to embody the two halves of the Doctrine of Ethos, language and mathematics, believed to be the key to commanding all things. Reed seeks to use these abilities to ascend to a place known as The Impossible City, and in doing so gain unimaginable power. But the more Rodger and Dodger try to fight their destiny, the faster it seems to sneak up on them.

The Ravens – Kass Morgan & Danielle Paige

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Kappa Rho Nu isn’t your average sorority. Their parties are notorious. Their fundraisers are known for being Westerly College’s most elaborate affairs. But beneath the veil of Greek life and prestige, the sisters of Kappu Rho Nu share a secret: they’re a coven of witches. For Vivi Deveraux, being one of Kappa Rho Nu’s Ravens means getting a chance to redefine herself. For Scarlett Winters, a bonafide Raven and daughter of a legacy Raven, pledge this year means living up to her mother’s impossible expectations of becoming Kappa Rho Nu’s next president. Scarlett knows she’d be the perfect candidate — that is, if she didn’t have one human-sized skeleton in her closet…. When Vivi and Scarlett are paired as big and little for initiation, they find themselves sinking into the sinister world of blood oaths and betrayals.

Dark Academia Aesthetic Reads

Below are a couple of books that are generally considered to be DA reads in terms of aesthetic rather than the genre. I thought I’d include them for interest.

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In the Mood for a DA Movie or TV Series Instead?

Thought this would be a fun little bonus to add on to the reading list. Some of these are very much DA genre and others are more about the vibes and aesthetic. Some are both! Either way, enjoyable times to be had.

There we have it! As I’m sure you’re aware, this is by no means an exhaustive list because…I would be dead before I finished it. That, or slowly losing my sanity. Still, I hope this is helpful for those who are curious about the genre and looking to read some of the books within it.

Do you have a favourite dark academia book, movie or TV show?

Not Exactly The Secret History: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

I didn’t have crazy, unreachable expectations for this book. I went into it knowing full well it wouldn’t be the next The Secret History. Still, I’d hoped it would be a fun mystery read with some secret society shenanigans, a dash of classic mythology and a decent twist at the end. And yet, I was still disappointed.

Who, What, Where?

Mariana Andros is a London-based group therapist still reeling from the tragic death of her husband a year prior. But when her niece Zoe calls from Cambridge after her friend, Tara, is found murdered, Mariana quickly finds herself caught up in the investigation. Of particular interest is Edward Fosca, the charismatic Greek tragedy professor and Tara’s potential lover, known for heading an exclusive, all female “study group” (aka secret society) known around campus as ‘The Maidens’. As Mariana looks closer at the crime and more bodies start to turn up, the more convinced she becomes that Fosca is the guilty party, alibis be damned. But how exactly to find the evidence to prove it?

Alright, let’s start with the good stuff first…

 A Portrait of Cambridge

The majority of The Maidens is set on the grounds of Cambridge University in the UK and Michaelides does a great job of helping his reader to really visualise it. You can tell he’s spent a lengthy amount of time researching everything from the positioning of the river, to the various pubs and eateries people haunt, to the way the buildings are laid out. It’s easy to imagine the surroundings of the characters in almost every location and this helps in maintaining the atmosphere and tension.

Loss and Grief

Something I wasn’t expecting the book to spend as much time on as it did was its depiction of grief. Having lost her husband, Sebastian, a year ago while on a trip to Greece, Mariana is still deeply feeling his loss and this shapes her thoughts and actions throughout the story. With Mariana and Sebastian having fallen in love while they themselves were at Cambridge, Mariana’s visit there is full of reminders of what she’s lost. I thought this was handled well and it helped me to sympathise with her as a character. The book also does a decent job of exploring Mariana’s family background which gives the reader a better grasp of her emotional baggage.

Insight Into a Killer

Spread throughout the book are short chapters posed as diary entries written by a mysterious man. They detail this person’s current inner turmoil and the troubling events of their childhood. While I wasn’t impressed with the revealed significance of these segments, I did enjoy the chapters themselves and found them interesting from a character building perspective.

Time to move onto the things I was less happy about.

Suspend Reality

What drove me nuts about this book was how unbelievable it felt. First, Mariana’s involvement in the investigation. Why she comes to Cambridge in the first place is fine but somehow, she just sort of jumps into looking into the murder without much prelude at all. Three different people encourage her to do so right from the get-go with no more reason than she’s a group therapist. Even though this isn’t her field, she has no forensic experience and there’s already a consultant working with the police. Um…okay.

Speaking of the police, their actions are a mess. Early on, they arrest a suspect simply because no-one can corroborate his alibi, even though Mariana tells us there’s no evidence to tie him to the death. More confusing still, they exclude a suspect by claiming a conversation he had with someone else provides an alibi BUT later arrest the same person who provided the alibi. Like, what? The second suspect can provide an alibi for the first but not the other way around?

Then we have the maidens, a group of attractive, wealthy, young women from prominent families who are being collected into a “private study group” by a charismatic professor for late night drinking and tutoring sessions. Yet, nobody bats an eyelid. No one? Really? God help the students at this university.

The cherry on top is the ending. The book gets points because the red herrings fooled me and I didn’t predict it. However, I have to deduct a gazillion points because it’s also stupid and makes little sense. Why did the killer carry out their plan under the existing circumstances? What did they hope to get out of it? Why did some of the victims willingly go with them? What’s up with the nonsensical attitudes of the maidens toward their dead friends? I have questions, okay, so many questions.

Weird Dialogue

Some of the dialogue exchanges in this book were really odd and unnatural for different reasons. For example, Mariana’s first meeting with Chief Inspector Sangha is super stilted, almost like talking with a robot programmed to act like an officer. Bizarrely, he warns her that this is his case and not to get involved when Mariana hasn’t done anything of the sort yet. On the other hand, the scenes with Mariana and Professor Fosca can only be described as melodramatic in the extreme. There’s literally a comment made by Fosca about Mariana seeing into his soul. Ick.

Do You Have a Death Wish?

While I appreciated Mariana’s grief story, I have to say that as a character, lord, does she do some stupid things. Honestly, I question whether this woman has any regard for her personal safety at all. Thinks dude is a murderer, agrees to have dinner alone with him and proceeds to get drunk. Believes person is involved in the murders, goes with them to an isolated location and gives them access to a weapon. Knows she’s likely being stalked by a patient, does nothing. Can you sense my frustration? Admittedly, she doesn’t fall for the red herrings I did, and you’d think this would be a good thing, but nopppeee. It’s actually because she refuses to consider any evidence that doesn’t fit with her own stubborn notions. *sigh*

Plot Teases

There were quite a few underdeveloped plot threads in this book that felt pointless or disappointing. First, with the way The Maidens was marketed, I expected the secret society and Greek mythology elements to play a larger role. Particularly as this is what attracted me in the first place. But, for the most part, these felt flat, lacking in substance and more importantly, irrelevant. The book tries to dive more into the mystery of the maidens towards the end, which I did find interesting, but by that point it all felt rushed and too late.

Second, there’s the issue of Mariana’s troubled, stalker patient, Henry. I want the wasted minutes of my life back. It’s frequently mentioned and built up to only to be resolved in two seconds flat and the most unsatisfying way possible. I’m still lost on what the point was.

Third, we have Mariana’s “curse”. After Mariana and Sebastian’s fateful trip to Greece, she is somehow under the impression that she’s been cursed by Persephone/Demeter and not only is this why her husband died but it’s why people keep inadvertently making references to it. It’s such a strange addition because it’s not developed well enough at a plotline, pops up at random times and seems out of place in the narrative.

Last, but not least, there’s Mariana’s not-so-romance with Fred, a premonition having, mathematics graduate student she meets on the train to Cambridge. I’m still confused as to whether I find Fred endearing or creepy and as for his relationship with Mariana, words fail me. Am I supposed to want them to be together? I don’t know. I don’t even think the author knows. The whole dynamic is just off.

As you can probably tell, I won’t be adding The Maidens to my list of favourite dark academia reads. However, if you were a big fan of The Silent Patient, you might still want to give this one a go.

2 Stars

The Dark Academia Book Tag

In recent months my eyes have been opened up to the ultimate level of “coolness” that is dark academia. Clothes, music playlists, books, interior design, it’s all just so deliciously gothic and mysterious. And what better way to fully dive in than The Dark Academia Book Tag? This tag was created by *Emmie* and CarolynMarieReads on Booktube. So crack out your skulls, musty books, Greek philosopher busts and autumnal shades of tweed. We’re about to mess things up in the pursuit of higher knowledge!

I recently finished If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio which fits both dark and academia and loved it. There are a lot of similarities with The Secret History by Donna Tartt (which I also enjoyed) but still some big differences. I love seeing how bad decisions and secrets can lead people to completely implode over time. Plus, the way Shakespeare is woven into this book is very cleverly done.

In terms of “dark” movies, I really like The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en, and it’s fairly comedic but The Mummy sort of covers both dark and academia in a different way.

I’m not much of a poetry reader but I really enjoyed studying the work of T.S. Elliot in high school. My favourite among his poems is ‘Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. It looks at things like social anxiety, isolation, insecurity, and inner vs outer life. It’s so wonderfully weird and melancholy, and there’s so much to unpack. I also quite like ‘The Hollow Men’ which deals with the aftermath of WWI. The last few lines of that poem, ‘This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper’ have stuck with me ever since I heard them for the first time.

I’m not so big on sculpture but I love art and frequently buy prints of pieces I really like. Just like with books though, I’d find it impossible to pick a favourite. So, a few of them are Almond Blossom & Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez, The Thames Below Westminster by Claude Monet and for something more modern, Leonid Afremov’s Alley By The Lake.

How do people pick just one for these questions? There so many beautiful feats of architecture in the world! I have three favourites: 1) Basílica de la Sagrada Família, 2) The Alhambra and 3) the Palace of Versailles.

Basílica de la Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain

I’m not religious, however I have visited quite a few churches across Europe. The Sagrada Familia is easily my favourite. Those stain-glass windows are absolutely breathtaking. You stand in the middle of the room and it’s just a riot of colour and light. The carvings around the exterior of the church are gorgeous as well.

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

The Alhambra has a long, complicated history which is why its architecture is so complex and varied. Upon visiting there, you can’t help but be amazed by the beautiful details on every wall, ceiling and doorway, especially knowing the limited tools that were available to create them compared to today. The gardens and views of the surrounding area from the fortress are divine, too.

Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France

With Versailles, it’s the sheer level of opulence. Every little detail manicured to perfection. Looking at the beauty and size, you definitely understand why the lower classes hated the French monarchy as much as they did. There’s gold all over the place. Even the floors you walk on are works of art. I can’t even imagine how many staff are employed to maintain it all.

Twelfth Night | Book by William Shakespeare, Dr. Barbara A. Mowat, Paul  Werstine | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

While I have some knowledge of Shakespeare, it’s only limited to certain plays (mostly Othello, Julius Caesar and Romeo & Juliet) so it’s a bit hard to know which lead I’d prefer to be. I’m also not much of an actor – the stage fright would likely kill me. However, I think I’d prefer one of the comedies (a tragedy is far beyond my capabilities). Something like Twelfth Night seems like it would be fun with all the romantic hijinks involved, plus I’d get to do some cross dressing, dueling and make plenty of confused expressions as Viola.

Alas, English is my only language. To all those multilingual people out there, I both envy and admire you. I did study French for a semester at University and didn’t end up continuing with it because of how intense the coursework was for such a short period of time, but I kind of wish that I’d given it a better crack now. Japanese would also be interesting to try out.

There are too many beautiful phrases from far too many talented authors to answer this question. Here are a few I love:

‘I am haunted by humans’ – The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

‘Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.’ – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid

‘Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?’– A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

‘I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.‘ – The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

“But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.” – The Two Towers, J RR Tolkien

Animated gif about gif in Bellatrix Lestrange by Goddess

Um, so I can’t just die peacefully in my sleep? No? Okay, in that case I’ll meet my demise via Avada Kedavra or The Killing Curse from Harry Potter. Quite a few characters in the series meet their end this way – Harry’s parents, Sirius Black, Fred Weasley, Cedric Diggery, etc. It seems to be pretty quick and painless which is a win. A flash of green light and you’re gone.

Once upon a time, like everyone I suppose, I dreamed about going to Oxford. I love London and the University itself is just so beautiful and magical looking. There’s a great deal of history to it as well. Then, of course, I realised (a) how expensive it would be and (b) how difficult it is to get in. Trinity in Dublin is similarly stunning and I really enjoyed visiting there a few years back. I like the Gothic feel to parts of it and my goodness, the Old library is what bookworm dreams are made of. In reality though, I attended the Australian National University in Canberra.

If you want to murder someone successfully, it has to be poison. Something quick, easy and which comes off looking like a natural death. Anything else and you’re inviting too many potential opportunities for evidence to be created and used against you at a later date. However, if you can’t be neat about it and need to get rid of the body entirely, acid is the way to go. Yes, I’ve thought about this. From a fictional standpoint only, of course.

Hm, this is tough. My undergraduate major was in modern history so perhaps something related to English or French history? Otherwise, maybe English Literature. Honestly though, I don’t really have much interest in doing a PhD. I haven’t even paid off my undergraduate degrees yet!

While I certainly enjoy reading about stories based in Greek and Roman mythology, there’s no way I’d want to be a part of it. Those Gods are selfish, asshole-ish nightmares, constantly getting up in each other’s business and other people paying the price for it. Ancient Egyptian mythology, on the other hand, sounds awesome. I mean, sure, they had their problems as well (chopping your brother up into 42 pieces and scattering them across the land for your sister-in-law to find comes to mind) but overall, they’re a bit more stable. Plus they have some interesting concepts about death.

I have a lot of different fictional characters that I adore but there’s none I’d “die for” (Yes, I realise the question isn’t meant to be taken literally). Still, it’s hard to choose an ultimate favourite. There’s far, far TOO MANY. However, last October I did two posts in which I listed my favourite book characters by letters of the alphabet which you can find here & here.

Leather bound or Cloth Bound Books

Leatherbound – they feel nice and they’re a lot more durable than cloth bound, as lovely as cloth bound are. Although, considering the animal impact of leather bound, if I could do faux-leather bound that would be good.

Dog-earing Pages or Highlighting Pages

Do I have to pick one? Because if neither is an option, I choose that. If I do have to pick, it’ll be dog-earing because the idea of highlighter potentially bleeding through the back of a page is giving me serious anxiety.

Sculptures or Paintings

Paintings. I’m not much of a sculpture person.

Piano or Violin

Piano. I adore a beautifully written and played piano piece that hits you right in the soul.

Films or Theater

I enjoy both but there’s definitely something magical about going to the theater. More of a special occasion than an everyday activity. I actually cried the first time I saw The Phantom of the Opera performed. It just feels so much more tangible happening in front of you.

Poetry or Prose

Prose. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t really read much poetry, or any really.

Museums or Bookshops

Bookshops, of course! I do enjoy a museum trip but I feel most happy and at home in my favourite bookshops.

Smell of Books or Smell of Coffee/Tea

I actually don’t drink coffee or tea but I love the smell of coffee. It’s so warm, rich and lovely. So, as much as I enjoy book scents, I’m surprisingly going coffee here.

Fountain Pen or Typewriter

I’ve never used either but I really appreciate the vintage look and feel of a typewriter. It would be fun to try one out.

New or Used Books

New. I know used are better for the environment and that they’re well loved, but I have a weird thing about perfect looking books. Cracked spines and bent corners are my nightmare.

Would you look at that, we got through without anyone accidentally or intentionally dying. Go us. I definitely get the feeling I’m going to be seeking out more dark academia books in the future to see how they compare to the ones I’ve already read. Are any of you fans of this genre? If so, what’s your favourite dark academia read/film/tv show?

How to Survive a Magic School Full of Monsters 101: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Magic, monsters, and dark academia. Did I need further reasons to read this book? NOPE.

Who, What, Where?

In A Deadly Education, our lead is Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins, a teenage witch with a talent for destructive magic. El is currently in her penultimate year at Scholomance, an international school for young mages with a frightening survival rate. Dropping out isn’t an option so students have little choice but to push through their coursework whilst trying to avoid getting eaten by one of the many monsters lurking throughout the school’s corridors and crevices. And even then, they still have to make it through graduation.

A Prickly Heroine & Bland Hero

El is far from your traditionally likeable heroine. She’s snarky, rude, foul tempered, frequently annoying and has a doom-filled prophecy about her to boot. This, among other things, made the early parts of the book a struggle for me to get through, particularly as it’s told in first person. However, as the book went on, I got to learn more about El’s history and came to understand why she’s so bitter and angry at the world and acts the way she does. After a while, I found that she’d grown on me, like a stubborn mould, and I was genuinely happy to see her build up some genuine connections by the end of the novel with people who saw past her prickly exterior.

Aside from El, the other major character is Orion Blake, golden boy and protector of students everywhere. While I didn’t dislike Orion, I did find him somewhat bland and it massively frustrated me that there was no explanation for his apparent “specialness”. This aside, I did really like his and El’s bizarre friendship. It’s mainly El telling Orion what an idiot he’s being and him simultaneously being frustrated by it and liking it because nobody else treats him like a normal human being. I can get behind that.

The Supporting Cast

There are quite a few side characters in this book. Although they’re ethnically and linguistically diverse, for the first half I found them to be vague and flat. Much like with El though, a few of the more prominent ones did improve as the story progressed, namely Liu, Chloe and Aadhya, who each developed their own traits and minor side plots. By the end I had a much greater appreciation for these three and really enjoyed seeing their relationships with El evolve.   

Tell, Not Show

Good news: the world is good. Bad News: We get told about it in ridiculous amounts of info dumping. And we’re not talking easy to follow stuff, we’re talking complicated world building necessary for understanding much of the events and dynamics between characters – magic sources, specialisations, languages and their relationship to magic, the structure of magical society, etc. It’s especially prominent in the first couple of chapters. After the opening hook I kept waiting around for an actual scene or conversation to take place for a good while.

Info dumping aside, I just don’t think I’m much of a fan of Novik’s writing style. This is something I noticed while reading Uprooted a few years back. It’s dense and wordy (unnecessarily so), there’s a large amount of inner monologuing, and a tendency to spend time on things that aren’t important to the story or the reader’s enjoyment, e.g. the history of a spell El uses at a high intensity moment. While I was interested in the general gist of the book, I found myself bored and skimming chunks of it from time to time.

Wanted: More Plot

Another thing I see people having problems with is the plot. Or the lack of one until about 70% of the way through. Most of A Deadly Education feels like a collection of small subplots happening as El goes through her day-to-day school life. These include El figuring out what to do after graduation, her relationship with Orion, the resulting antagonism with the New York kids, Liu’s struggles with malia (dark magic), etc. For the most part though, it’s just El and the other students trying to avoid being killed by a variety of determined and crafty creatures which Orion regularly saves them from. Once a larger plot become apparent it did provide some context to a few of the earlier events and I quite enjoyed where the story ended up climax and ending wise.

Racial Controversy

Over the last few months there’s been discussion online about certain elements of this book being racially offensive (e.g. a problematic passage about locs). As a white, Australian reviewer, I don’t feel I’m the right person to comment on these, especially as others who are better qualified than myself have already done so at length. You can find three different posts here, here and here. I should also mention that Naomi Novik has apologised for some of these inclusions and vowed to do better in future.

A Deadly Education gets some things right and others, not so much. If you’re already a dedicated Novik fan, you’ll probably enjoy this latest offering. Despite the book not living up to its full potential in my eyes, with how things ended I’ll probably give the sequel a go when it releases in 2021.

3 stars