Here’s part one of book releases I’ve been looking forward to in 2022.
Extasia by Claire Legrand
Releasedate: 22. February 2022
Why I want to read it: the author also wrote “Sawkill Girls” which I liked, and it’s a YA horror with a religious cult, overthrowing patriarchy and sapphic protagonists.
Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
Releasedate: 5. April 2022
Why I want to read it: Vuong’s other poetry collection was stunning and real, with big themes like grief and war, but drawing from very personal experiences
Inheritance: a visual poem by Elizabeth Acevedo
Releasedate: 3. May 2022
Why I want to read it: I love Acevedo’s poetry and way to tell stories already. Never know quite what to expect in terms of format, which is great.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
Releasedate: 3. May 2022
Why I want to read it: sapphic romances, especially by authors I already know can write well, are always worth a shot
Book of Night by Holly Black
Releasedate: 3. May 2022
Why I want to read it: a more adult, dark fantasy with thieves, secret societies, magic with consequences and murders. I don’t think I’ve ever read a bad book from Holly Black.
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
Releasedate: 10. May 2022
Why I want to read it: an unusual book for me to pick up, but a lot of people seem to like this 30s Hollywood story with a Chinese American protagonist who has to navigate dark rituals and folklore in what seems to be somewhat of a fantasy book with sapphics.
Genre: contemporary fiction, lgbt; gay & bi main characters, dark academia
Hidden away in an Oxford back street is a crumbling Georgian mansion, unknown to any but the few who possess a key to its unassuming front gate. Its owner is the mercurial, charismatic Mark Winters, whose rackety trust-fund upbringing has left him as troubled and unpredictable as he is wildly promiscuous. Mark gathers around him an impressionable group of students: glamorous Emmanuella, who always has a new boyfriend in tow; Franny and Simon, best friends and occasional lovers; musician Jess, whose calm exterior hides passionate depths. And James, already damaged by Oxford and looking for a group to belong to. For a time they live in a charmed world of learning and parties and love affairs. But university is no grounding for adult life, and when, years later, tragedy strikes they are entirely unprepared. Universal in its themes of ambition, desire and betrayal, this spellbinding novel reflects the truth that the lessons life teaches often come too late.
Rating out of five:four
I was almost turned away from this book because it had bad reviews, but the synopsis sounded like the dark academia type of book I was looking for. And it’s a great dark academia book, with found family, an extremely wealthy young man in the middle of it who studies theology and a morale that the people that (by what were first seen as flaws) escaped this elitist university got the better end of the deal. And, of course, the characters experiencing (well-written) tragedies in their lives. It was the comparison to “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt that made me pick it up eventually. It’s impressive how much you can start with the same type of premise, but as a writer bring an entirely different feeling to the story. I don’t adore this book as much as I did “The Secret History”, but here the cast of characters has less of a mythology around them and more real and recognizable emotions, flaws and fears. There’s no great professor to rally around, quite the opposite as the protagonist James gets extremely little support, mostly reprimands, from his physics tutors. And the group as a whole isn’t quite pushed towards murder, but yet their personal tragedies hit me even harder.
Kendall smiled at me apologetically. I watched them go and wondered if he knew what he’d escaped, or if he still pined for the quads and rooms lined with ancient books. We always value things that are hard to get, regardless of their intrinsic worth.
The problem with this type of book is that it’s more a biography of a group of people’s lives than a plot, and so you have a so much better chance of liking it if that’s what you’re into. And also some reviews seem to dislike there being queer characters or how they’re portrayed, as it’s more yearning and dealing with a lot of religious homophobia. It is a dark book in that the characters in it are majorly morally flawed and that shows in their relationships, some turning abusive. James, for instance, is a swamp of a person, struggling with having any identity of his own. It’s fascinating to read the book through his perspective, because his opinion is shown to change as the people around him states theirs. It’s like his whole reality, value system and base of truth shifts, all the time.
This, this was the chance I’d waited for. Here, if I said the right things, I could enfold her into my life, and wrap myself in hers, in the Oxford life I had somehow missed. […] yes, just take me with you wherever you are going, I don’t need my life any more, I will take yours.
But James also has an impressive insight into what’s going on with the friendgroup, only his new girlfriend Jess beats him in that she more often seemingly knows what to do. And as the years passes, James finds his identity, but the daily life things, what he enjoys on his own, seems to still be affected by those around him. Or because of the skewed narrative, you could interpret it as James having a mental illness that shows in the start of university and every barricade of comfort he builds up from that point is to protect him from his own mind and its possibilities. It’s somewhat weird to watch James go from this ambitious physics student facing too much pressure and fall into this group of people of academically good people, yet he and Mark are the only two of them who loses that ambition. It does kind of point to the second alternative.
I did not eat much that weekend, I barely stirred from bed. It was clear to me that this was my natural condition; that without Jess I would return to the state in which she had found me – incapable, bleak, desperate. It was only late on Sunday night, when I heard her key in the door, when I saw her face, that the mood lifted, suddenly, all at once, as though it had never been.
Mark on his side comes into this book and friendgroup with a bunch of problems he already knows of, but has the charisma, the house, (the drugs) and the passion to keep them together. At least in the beginning. There’s a very specific tipping point at the very end of the book, in which he pursues teenagers, that everyone should be at the point where they hate who he had turned into. But there’s a weird slope to that point, in which he might seem narcissistic and manipulating, but he stays what the friendgroup expect, with certain few brighter and kinder moments. He is the cult-like personality they rally around.
I really appreciated the ending, where James and Jess gets to sit down and have a final talk about what went on between them. It differs this book from the similar books I’ve read. Because Jess gives James the final push out of his comfort, into Mark’s arms to take care of him, but didn’t realize the disastrous consequences. And as she’d made every right decision towards their friendgroup until that point, it only fit that she was the one to right her mistake by reminding James of his worth at the end.
Is it accurate to studying physics? Not to the average student. But the average student doesn’t find a rich friend to move into a basically castle with. James describes having been a smart kid who didn’t have to try hard up until this point and now is struggling to create study habits, which is accurate for a certain type of person. The weird competition between students at the beginning that turns into hauling each other over the finish line as the workload increases might be exaggerated, but not unaccurate. The scene where the professor laughed at the idea of doing the next weeks tasks without having done the the past ones, yet won’t give extensions seems a bit too accurate to a certain type of personality. The pre-exam scenes in themselves should come with their own warnings of accuracy as they hit a bit too close to home.
I’ve seen people I respect really hate the dark academia concept, and I get that as it out of context and/or romanticized ends up portraying academia in unpleasant ways. Both in being too good or too bad. But as book and movie genre goes, it really is about how obsessive a person and group can get when they’re all in the same place, under immense pressure following their passions, with the weird group dynamics that can create. Like cult-ish, or featuring too many mysteries for someone to not be keeping secrets.
Books I’ve Read
If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio: A typical dark academia book in that it’s very centered around a cast of characters (both friends and enemies) attending the same classes, performing greek plays, being in general theatric and dark. You can see how the characters are pushed to excell and that they know that themselves, before they start to unravel from guilt. It’s is ways similiar to the secret history, but I found this book missing in some aspects like the complexity of the characters.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt: I’ve read this book multiple times, it’s the perfect dark academia book. The synopsis says what it needs to; “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.“
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I’ve never written a full review of this book, and yet it is one of my favourites. It’s a deeply tragic story with many different acts or settings. It’s mostly about friendship, survival and loneliness, where the protagonist goes constantly from good situations falling apart to surviving the worst ones. It features a bomb in a museum killing the protagonist’s mother, a lost painting, rich families and abusive homes. And also a character Boris, pulling the protagonist into a deep friendship with some homoromantic subtext. As Rick Riordan put it “If nothing else, read this book to meet Boris“. He’s somewhat of a criminal genius. All throughout this book there’s some mystery and urgency in the survival.
They Never Learn by Layne Fargo: It’s different to a lot of the other books here, because the English professor protagonist is definite murderer, trying to avoid persecution while roaming around on the university campus. The other protagonist is a student, who brings a lot of obsessiveness in taking things into her own hands when her friend gets sexually assaulted. It definitely showcases the potentially worst sides of an (academic) institution with abuse of power from everyone in charge. Less about the group dynamics, and more about the individuals’ dark paths.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles: A boarding school of boys lives their life while a war is brewing outside in the world, constantly dripping into theirs. It fits with the dark academia concept because of that obsessiveness attached to the secluded group dynamic the boarding school brings. There’s a lot to say about this coming-of-age story, but personally the relationship between Gene and Phineas felt like those really destructive friendships that behave almost like romances (even if that was not the goal). The distant war and the situation is wearing the whole group down, with dramatic consequences.
Books On My TBR
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: Filled with riddles and mystery, with the protagonist living in an endless labyrinth of “classical architecture stitched together” which he works to understand. There’s searches for knowledge and a debate for it being the good for humanity or for power.
Maurice by E. M. Forster: It’s a classic gay novel making a point to criticize the romanticization of the posh ivy league, it might not fit all the criterias, but that’s central.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M Danforth: A sapphic novel set in a school for girls spanning two different times; one which lead to the school closing as the girls died from a wasp incident, and one where it’s newly reopened and allegedly cursed.
Those Who Prey by Jennifer Moffett: It’s a lonely college freshman seduced into joining an exclusive cult, a trip to Italy, trying to escape and a mysterious death.
The Magus by John Fowles: I’m a bit unsure yet how dark academia this is, but it should have rich dudes, the protagonist getting a teaching position on a remote Greek Island and befriending a local millionaire, which turns into a deadly game with a lot of mental manipulation andn torture. All steeped in metaphor, symbolism, eroticism, mythology and shakespeare. Which sounds like it fits.
Peace Breaks Out by John Knowles: It’s less known than “A Separate Peace”, but in some way I hope it’s more of the same? It’s post-war and dealing with some weird consequences of relief and guilt, mostly told by the teacher of an all boys school. Can’t quite promise it’s dark academia, but will eventually get to it.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé: A queer thriller set in a private school dealing with institutionalized racism.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Mixing elements of the supernatural with science and academia, with love stories, enormous wealth, debutante balls and gothic mysteries.
Update after reading mexican gothic: definitely dark and horror, less academia, except for character’s interest and knowledge of plants and mushrooms. Wouldn’t immediately say it’s dark academia.
Mona Lisa Smile by Deborah Chiel: The protagonist gets a teacher position at an all-girl school trying to get the girls to follow their passion in the 1950s. Described as “dead poets society” with girls.
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee: An intense, sapphic novel with an unreliable narrator, obesessions and mysteries.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl: A dense novel where a smart protagonist is looking for similiar friends at a private school, with success, but also a drowning, a hanging and a lot of dealing with murder mystery.
The Lessons by Naomi Alderman: A naive narrator from a poor background enrolls in a prestigious university, meeting a close-knit intellectual and wealthy friendgroup (sounds a lot like The Secret History) featuring manipulation, intense romances and gay and bi characters.
This book was just a horrible attempt at dark academia;
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo: You cannot just give your characters all this past and current, very explicit, trauma and then not play out the consequences in any shape or form. It is not the shortcut to “darker” or more “mature” content that this book was so heavily marketed as, it only brings up questions of what is for shock factor (and creates a unneccessarily long trigger warning list). Yale is the setting, which Bardugo attended, but there’s barely anything related to academia. There’s a powerful magical rich group of people (secret society style), the protagonist supposedly coming from a poor background. But the poor people are portrayed as sell-outs, they’re drug-dealers, murderers, something to leave behind. There’s racism that’s never confronted and the most badly written and handled sexual assault I’ve ever read (at which point I stopped reading it). That says something as I just read Philip Pullman’s take on a girl being nearly gang-raped on a train by soldiers the moment she enters his world’s equivalent of muslim land and told to cover up afterwards. WHO LETS THESE (until then good) AUTHORS WRITE THIS JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE FAMOUS AND SUPPOSEDLY CHANGING FROM YA BOOKS TO MORE MATURE?