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Samantha Downing and the Appeal of Dark Academia

Samantha Downing and the Appeal of Dark AcademiaRecently there’s been an explosion of Dark Academia books, including The Maidens by Alex Michaelides, Bad Habits by Amy Gentry, and Kill All Your Darlings by David Bell. So what do we love about these books? I don’t know, but I have a few theories.

Comfort in the Familiar

We may not go to private schools or expensive universities, but we all go to high school. Our experiences might be good, bad, or horrific, but school is one thing the majority of people have in common. The cliques, the popular kids, the outcasts…we’ve seen it. Dark Academia books always have an element of the familiar, something we can relate to.

I write thrillers, and most people (hopefully!) can’t relate to murder or psychopaths or the betrayals…but the setting is something different. All of my books take place in a mundane, everyday setting, from the suburbs to a high school. It grounds the book in a familiar place, because from there the story usually gets pretty crazy.

Living Vicariously

Many Dark Academia books take place at private schools, where the students are wealthy and privileged. For Your Own Good is no exception, and that was a deliberate choice I made when writing it. I wasn’t a rich kid, I didn’t go to a private school, certainly not one like the fictional Belmont Academy. That’s part of what made it so fun to write, and hopefully fun to read. Living vicariously through other people’s lives is a part of fiction, and certainly a part of why I love to read. I don’t want to read about myself all the time—that would be so boring. I want to read about how others live, and this book gave me the opportunity to imagine what those lives might be like. With a little murder thrown in, of course…

But it wasn’t just about the money and the entitlement. Most of the kids in this book are popular and well-liked. I wasn’t a popular kid in school, but I loved writing about them! It was a lot of fun to imagine what life is like for those at the top of the high school food chain.

Fear

The popularity of horror books, films, and TV shows proves how much people love to be scared. I know I do! An educational setting is supposed to be a safe place, a shelter from the ‘real world.’ It doesn’t work out that way in Dark Academia. Beneath all those books and idealism, secrets are everywhere and something more sinister is happening.

In addition, schools are supposed to have a level of trust. We trust our kids to be there all day, every day, for years. We don’t expect any of the teachers to be psychopaths or sociopaths or, God forbid, serial killers.

But they exist. I’m convinced of it, even if they haven’t been discovered yet…and to me, that idea is terrifying.


About the Author

Samantha Downing is the author of the bestselling My Lovely Wife, nominated for Edgar, ITW, Macavity, and CWA awards. Amazon Studios and Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films have partnered to produce a feature film based on the novel.

Her second book, He Started It, was released in 2020 and became an instant international bestseller. Her third thriller, For Your Own Good, will be released in the US on July 20, 2021.