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Would You Survive? 8 Recent Dark Academia & Deadly Game Books

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Jamie Canaves

Contributing Editor

Jamie Canavés is the Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator and Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter writer–in case you’re wondering what you do with a Liberal Arts degree. She’s never met a beach she didn’t like, always says yes to dessert, loves ‘80s nostalgia, all forms of entertainment, and can hold a conversation using only gifs. You can definitely talk books with her on Litsy and Goodreads. Depending on social media’s stability maybe also Twitter and Bluesky.

Recently, dark academia and deadly games had a moment. And while it’s not currently the obsession of bookish social media, that is just because online attention is fickle, not because readers who love the setting, mood, feel, and usually murder-y plots of dark academia and dangerous games suddenly stopped loving those books.

Yes, dark academia and deadly games are two separate subgenres, but I have found that fans of one are, more often than not, fans of the other as well. I count myself among them, and there have been a bunch of exciting recent releases for both subgenres. Plus, 2024 looks like it’s going to continue the trend with Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Where Sleeping Girls Lie and S.T. Gibson’s An Education in Malice.

If you’re in the mood for deadly games and dangerous competitions, I’ve got a few, from thrillers to fantasy. And if you’re looking for dark academia, I have a range of something-isn’t-right-on-this-campus books for horror, mystery, and genre blend fans. Plus, I included two murder mysteries with high school settings that I feel dark academia fans should definitely have on their radars. It’s a great list, with hours of possibly deadly entertainment!

Deadly Games And Dangerous Competitions

thieves gambit book cover

Thieves’ Gambit by Kayvion Lewis

For fans of action, heists, and dangerous competitions!

Ross Quest is a 17-year-old thief. It’s the only life she’s known, as her mother has raised her in the family business with the strict rule to trust no one. But Ross wants another life and plans on changing course — until her mother is kidnapped and a billion-dollar price tag has Ross entering into the dangerous heist game Thieves’ Gambit. Now she’s going to have to do anything to save her mom while also putting to the test whether trusting others should always be against her rules…

cover image for Their Vicious Games

Their Vicious Games by Joelle Wellington

For fans of deadly competitions!

After a fight with a fellow student, Adina Walker loses the one thing she’s been desperately working towards—acceptance into Yale. That’s how she ends up befriending the son of a wealthy family and not only getting an invitation to a competition called Finish, but accepting it. It’s her versus 11 other girls, except the games turn out to be life or death…


The Jasad Heir (The Scorched Throne #1) by Sara Hashem

For fans of fantasy and deadly games!

In this world, magic is outlawed, which makes life rather difficult for Sylvia, the lost Heir of Jasad, who possesses magic. Every year, each kingdom chooses a Champion who will represent their kingdom and compete in (deadly!) trials, with the winner being protected. Who doesn’t want to be protected in a world where those with magical abilities are sentenced to death?

Dark Academia

cover for The Changing Man

The Changing Man by Tomi Oyemakinde

For fans of new students in a there-is-something-wrong-in-this-boarding-school setting!

Ife Adebola is at Nithercott School on a scholarship, but not by choice. She’s not trying to be active at this boarding school nor trying to make friends. But the school has an old legend about the Changing Man, and her classmate’s older brother is missing, and now a fellow student has returned different after disappearing, forcing Ife to start looking into what exactly is going on at this school…

cover image for The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi; illustration of a floral arrangement on a table with a skull for a vase

The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi

For fans of mixed genres, “something’s not right here” books and language!

Anisa Ellahi is living in London and subtitling Bollywood films, which may sound like a fun job, but it’s not what she wants. She wants to be working on literary translation and soon finds the best way to achieve her goal from the advice of a boyfriend who learned handfuls of languages from a school. Turns out for $20,000, the Centre promises you will be fluent in any language in ten days. But with a social contact ban, she starts looking into the school she’s just arrived at, and maybe this isn’t the best way to her dream job…

cover image for The Black Queen

The Black Queen by Jumata Emill

For fans of multiple points of view and the murder victim’s best friend trying to solve the mystery!

If she hadn’t been murdered, Nova Albright would be celebrating being the first Black homecoming queen in Lovett High’s history. Her best friend, Duchess Simmons, has absolutely no doubt that Tinsley McArthur is the murderer. The women in Tinsley’s family always get the crown, and she believes it is her right. But even with Duchess’s father being a police officer, Duchess can’t get anyone to believe her, and Tinsley isn’t going down for a murder she swears she didn’t do…

cover image for The Society for Soulless Girls

The Society For Soulless Girls by Laura Steven

For fans of sapphic retellings and English boarding schools!

Carvell College of Arts, an English boarding school, was once shut down for a decade thanks to what is referred to as the North Tower murders. Now Lottie, a freshman, is there to sleuth out exactly what happened and especially get justice for one of the victims. Her roommate Alice is there for her own reasons and soon finds herself attempting a ritual from a book she found — with an unexpected outcome. And then the campus murders begin again…

cover of Promise Boys

Promise Boys by Nick Brooks

For fans of multiple suspects and campus murder mysteries!

The strict principal at the Urban Promise Prep School has been shot and killed, and three students are prime suspects. Trey is a basketball player living with his uncle, hoping to be recruited by scouts, who threatened the principal right before he was murdered. Ramón has no plans on going the route of his cousin into gang life. Instead, he makes pupusas every day to sell for needed money. His hairbrush was found at the scene of the murder. J.B. is sick of all the strict rules, is dating his dream girl, and somehow has the principal’s blood on him. Follow the three teens after the murder and leading up to the murder, along with fellow students and community members, to find out exactly who murdered the principal…

If you’re looking for even more dark academia and deadly game books, check out Dark Academia Authors to Lure You Into the Shadows and 10 Books About Deadly Games.