When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.
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 that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of 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 incredibly deadly?
I was provided an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
When I finished reading Ace of Spades, I was overcome with a very unfamiliar feeling: I wanted to go back to the very first page and read it cover to cover again. I wanted to relive the descension of horror this book takes you through. I wanted to experience the terror and fear that this book instils with its incredible twist and turns. And, knowing what I know now, I wanted to feel that absolute dread of knowing what was coming, because how this story devolves and leads to was thrilling and so satisfyingly brilliant. I am in awe of Ace of Spades, and it is one of the most phenomenal debuts that I have ever read.
Set in an elite private school and told in alternating perspectives, we follow two Black teens: Chiamaka, a biracual Italian-Nigerian-American teen who is Head Girl, popular, and isn’t afraid to get what she wants to stay in power; and Devon, a Black Amerian teen and talented musician who just wants to keep his head down, focus on his music, and protect his secret. When an anonymous texter named Aces begins bringing Chiamaka and Devon’s secrets to light, Chiamaka and Devon reluctantly team up together to take the anonymous texter down.
Ace of Spades is nothing short of incredible and will – and I’m calling it – one of my top ten books that I read this year. The book begins with a few perfectly tame first chapters. Readers will be pulled into Devon and Chiamaka’s two entirely different worlds. Whilst Devon’s desire is to just stay low-key and get into a university that offers a music scholarship, Chiamaka is bold and popular, unapologetic in what she wants and to stay in power. But when Aces enters the picture, texting humiliating secret to terrifying secret, I felt transfixed to the story, unable to pull away from each shocking revelation, wanting to know what happened next as the floor beneath Chiamaka and Devon’s feet begins to crumble. Ace of Spades is immediately compelling and just when you think things could not get worse, they absolutely do – with a vengeance.
The story is excellently paced, the mystery dark and delicious and addictive. Faridah plays with our emotions, dropping hints here and there, expertly instilling a growing sense of dread and horror that I really enjoyed. Yet, when I think about Ace of Spades, its brilliance isn’t just because it is mind-blowing and terrifying. Rather, the genius in the mystery is its thoughtfulness and that is speaks to real experiences that will resonate with readers – and I wish I could elaborate on this, because if this book wasn’t spoiler-free, this review would be twice as long with my thoughts on how I thought the reveal was brilliant.
As well as its fantastic mystery, Ace of Spades boasts brilliantly fleshed out characters that you will enjoy scrutinising and learning more about and an eerie and tense atmosphere where you will feel too scared to let your guard down. However, what stood out to me about Ace of Spades was how it balances being this incredible action-packed mystery that never has a dull moment to this incredibly thematic story as well.
For instance, the incisive discourse of how race often intersects with class and, in extension, academia was excellent. I enjoyed how this is explored in the story and how this intertwines with Chiamaka’s character development; that Black people in white spaces have to curtail their authentic selves and tailor their image in ways that conform with white arbitrary standards of beauty, ‘professionalism’, and being. How this is explored in Ace of Spades is subtly and excellently done. Moreover, I also liked how the story explores how class adds another layer of privilege, and this is exemplified in how Chiamaka, who grew up and lives in a rich neighbourhood and how it insulates her, versus Devon, from a poorer neighbourhood, differently navigate and perceive society and the spaces that they occupy.
In addition, I loved that this story explores how racism is systemic; racism isn’t merely one individual saying anti-Black microaggressions and hating a person. Racism at its most violent and cruel is when it’s pervasive and structural. I loved that Ace of Spades delves into this in its dark academia setting; that academia is overwhelmingly white and classist, and this intersection is particularly salient in Devon’s character development – a poor Black boy who gets into the private school by scholarship, and has to grapple with his classmates’s racism and classism, ultimately creating barriers to success in Black students.
Lastly, Ace of Spades delves into the fraught space of being queer and also being a person of colour; how being queer can actually be dangerous because queer acceptance – from others and of yourself – can sometimes be complex and challenging. Both Chiamaka and Devon are queer Black teens (Chiamaka is bisexual and Devon is gay), and I liked how the story showed that they two have different queer experiences. There are anti-gay microaggressions and rhetoric in this book, including Devon being outed by Aces, but there are also glimmers of hope in the story how validating and affirming acceptance can be. Rest assured: Ace of Spades is not a queer pain story; it does, though, honestly and genuinely show that being queer can come with its challenges, but there’s joy and love and tenderness too.
CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Thrilling, shocking, and un-put-downable, Ace of Spades is an explosive debut and will be instant favourites everywhere. Ace of Spades is going to be the next big book, and it absolutely deserves to be. If Ace of Spades, Faridah’s published debut, is any indication of her work and what we can expect, call me a fan of her work forever; I’ll read anything she writes.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Two Black teens become the targets of an anonymous texter and they must work together to take them down.
Perfect for: Readers who love thrillers and mysteries (or people interested in the genre and want to give it a go!); readers who love dark academia; readers who love stories with twists and turns; readers who want an exploration of race and class.
Think twice if: You aren’t in the mood for something heavier.
Genre: young adult thriller mystery
Trigger/content warning: death, blood mentions, anti-gay microaggressions, physical violence, drugs, alcohol consumption, stalking