February 3, 2023

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Blogazine on Books, Arts, and Music

Best Dark Academia in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Flatiron Books Publishers of Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo

Wealth. Power. Murder. Magic. Alex Stern is back and the Ivy League goes straight to hell in this sequel to Leigh Bardugo’s best-selling book, Ninth House. Rich in story and packed with Bardugo’s signature twists, Hell Bent brings to life an intricate world of magic, violence and all-too-real monsters.

When you think of dark science, you probably think of uniforms, universities, and mysteries or thrillers; They don’t think of science fiction or fantasy. But you should And here’s why: There’s more dark science in science fiction and fantasy than you probably realize. In fact, some of the best dark academic books to come out in the last year have been SFF novels. We accept nominees for the Hugo and Goodreads Choice Awards. Nothing to shake your head at. And it makes sense: magic and dark science go hand in hand. Think haunted libraries and dark magicians, ancient societies and supernatural creatures – all things that blend beautifully with gothic university halls and dark mysteries.

These ten books are just the tip of the dark science iceberg in science fiction and fantasy, but they’re a perfect example of why this subgenre works so well in the world of SFF. Dark science is all about atmosphere, and there’s nothing more atmospheric than a magical university, libraries full of grimoires, or necromantic armies. Open one of these gritty academic SFF books to enter a world of curiosity, danger, and intrigue written by renowned wordsmiths who might as well be magicians themselves. But be forewarned: I can’t promise you won’t come through the experience unchanged.

Babel book cover

Babel by RF Kuang

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so perfectly steeped in dark science as this beautiful historical fantasy novel about a magical translation department at Oxford University. It’s also about colonialism and racism and friendship, but especially language lovers obsessed with dark science will fall head over heels in love with Kuang’s nuanced ideas of how words and translation can be used to bestow power.

book cover of book eaters

The book eaters by Sunyi Dean

Dark academic books don’t always have to be based in a school. Sometimes they simply involve an obsession with knowledge or learning, as in The Book Eaters, where vampire-like supernatural beings thrive on books – literally. As a young book eater, Devon grows up on fairy tales, as her old family says a young girl should be. But it doesn’t take long for her to realize that life as a woman among her people will be anything but a fairy tale. And in order to protect her young children, she must ultimately join forces with her enemies to escape from the very people who are meant to protect her.

The Atlas Six book cover

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

In a secret society of magical academics known as the Alexandrians, six new members are chosen for initiation every ten years. It is a prestigious offering that promises power and wealth beyond their wildest imagination. But only five become Alexandrians. This class of initiates includes a mind reader, a naturalist, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds, a crime lord, and a rich boy who could bring about the end of the world. Five of them become members. One of them will be eliminated. They just have to prove they’re the best – and survive a year at each other’s side.

Cover of the book Vita Nostra

Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, translated by Julia Meitov Hersey

The Institute of Special Technologies: a place where books cannot be read and lessons cannot be memorized. Teachers make draconian efforts to keep students engaged. And yet, newly enrolled, Sascha never wanted anything more than the changes she is beginning to experience—changes that defy the dictates of matter and time.

The Society for Soulless Girls book cover

The Society for Soulless Girls by Laura Steven

A haunted library has claimed several lives in the North Tower of Carvell College of Arts. And now that it’s reopened its doors to students, the library has struck again. Lottie’s roommate Alice is the one who stumbles into the dark, soul-splitting ritual. Lottie is determined to uncover the mysteries behind the library murders, but can she do it before Alice’s monstrous alter ego takes over?

Book cover of The Magic of Thorns

Spell of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Is there anything more quintessentially dark academic than growing up in a library? A resident of the Great Library at Summershall, Elizabeth grew up knowing that magic is dangerous and wizards can never be trusted. Eventually, the grimoires she and the other librarians sift through can come to life and wreak havoc. But when she’s accused of publishing one of the library’s most dangerous spell books, she meets two unlikely allies: a wizard and his demonic servant. Together they must tackle a centuries-old conspiracy that would destroy all Great Libraries and the world with them.

The Library of Unwritten Book Covers

The Library of the Unwritten by AJ Hackwith

In a special section in the Library of Hell, books left unfinished by their authors are in the Unwritten Wing. As head of the library, Claire is responsible for the upkeep of the library and occasionally for searching for the restless characters that spring to life from the pages of the books in her care. When a wayward hero escapes his tale to track down the author who never finished it, Claire must team up with a former muse and a nervous demon courier to reclaim him. But what should have been an easy recovery soon becomes embroiled in the battle between heaven and hell when an angel attacks, believing the Librarians possess a book that will turn the tide and reshape the boundaries between heaven, hell and earth themselves could.

A Master of the Djinn book cover

A Master of the Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

At the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernaturals, agents work to keep the peace between the natural and the supernatural in Cairo. And agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi is no beginner. But when someone assassinates a secret brotherhood dedicated to the man who lifted the veil between humanity and magic 50 years ago, and claims to be Al-Jahiz, who has returned to condemn the modern world, is an agent herself Fatma stunned. Now she must either prove he’s a fraud before destroying the city, or face the fact that one of history’s most influential figures has returned to wreak havoc on the present – and neither option will be pretty.

Gideon the ninth book cover

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

This list definitely leans into fantasy, but I’d be remiss not to include this cross-genre SF/F novel set in outer space. A swordswoman and a necromancer must join forces in a deadly quest to create the Emperor’s next immortal servant. It will take all their wits and skills to stay alive. The only problem? Gideon and Harrowhark are sworn enemies who have been at each other’s throats since childhood. Winning means eternal glory. Failure leads to certain death. But no pressure, right?

Cover of the Whispering Dark Book

The Whispering Dark by Kelly Andrew

At Godbole University, students are trained in the art of gliding between dimensions. Once accepted, Delaney Meyers-Petrov is poised for an opportunity to be seen as more than just a deaf girl with something to prove. But Delaney’s talents transcend those of the average Godbole student. She hears voices calling from the shadows and has a strange connection to a fellow student who died…only to reappear at her feet nearly a decade ago. And when a college student is found dead, she must team up with the very boy she’s trying to avoid to uncover the university’s darkest secrets and confront a nameless enemy who could tear the universe apart.

Fall down the dark academic rabbit hole? Here are more Dark Fantasy and Dark Academy recordings: