Ace of Spades: Dark academia meets Gossip Girl, and no place is safe

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAce of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAce of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Ace of Spades (2021) is Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s first novel. It’s a YA thriller and doesn’t have any speculative elements, but if you like good prose, good characterization and high-suspense thrillers this book might be for you. I was not the target audience for this book, but after the first couple of chapters, I could not put it down.

Chiamaka and Devon are students at an upscale private high school called Niveus Academy. It’s senior year, and the two are each selected to be Senior Prefects (the school, while located in the USA, follows certain British school traditions.) For Chiamaka, this simply ticks another box on her personal to-do list, which include being crowned queen of the school ball and accepted into Yale premed. Devon, a scholarship student, is stunned that he’s been made prefect, because he has no friends and keeps to himself, focusing on his grades and his music. Aside from being prefects, Chi and Devon have only one other thing in common — they are the only Black students in the school.

The book alternates chapters between Devon’s and Chi’s point of view. Soon — very soon — each of them has been targeted by an anonymous poster called Aces, who texts nasty things about them. The things are true. The “poison pen” texter teases bigger scandals to be revealed, and Chi knows that one of them, about her, is devastating. Devon is an even easier target. He is poor, his mother works two jobs to support them, and Devon has delivered drugs for the local dealer from time to time to help his mother out. More personally, Devon likes boys, a fact that wouldn’t really cause a ripple in school, but which Devon desperately wants to keep from his religious mother.

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe harassment escalates, and neither Devon nor Chi can find a single ally. The new headmaster, in a pretzel-worthy act of twisted logic, blames them, implying that each of them is targeting the other. The attacks become more personal and far scarier as the students find their privacy invaded, not only at school but at home — and they both figure out that there is more than one person behind this. It’s not likely to be a student because they have access to too much information. Item by item, Aces rips apart Devon’s and Chi’s dreams, and no one will help them.

I thought I understood Devon immediately. Because Chiamaka is a social girl, the Queen of the Halls, and somewhat of a Mean Girl, I didn’t warm up to her as quickly, but what drives her becomes clear and it isn’t shallow. Halfway through Ace of Spades, Chi is unable to straighten her hair one morning because of a power outage. She thinks that she doesn’t hate her hair, and she doesn’t have to — everyone at school hates it for her. If I hadn’t started understanding Chiamaka before, that sentence would have opened the door for me. Both the main characters are complicated and engaging.

Àbíké-Íyímídé creates a sense of complete invasion, with no safe space, no one the two students can turn to, and deepens the paranoia — except it really isn’t paranoia. How do you fight back when every domain of your life has been invaded?

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Ace of Spades lets us in on the reasoning Devon and Chiamaka use to suss out the identity of Aces, so it isn’t a reveal or a surprise but a slow dawning of realization. The two have a desperate plan to confront their attackers, and I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath during the final pages of the book. And the final page — the final-final — is simply one of the best endings I’ve read.

The book owes a debt to the TV show Gossip Girl, which the author acknowledges in her Afterword.

One poster on Goodreads felt that the level of the conspiracy uncovered at the end was not plausible. I thought it was. First of all, I assumed that part of the book’s purpose was to literalize behaviors that happen all around us all the time. I’m white. I don’t see them because they don’t happen to me. If you want to argue that nobody could maintain a conspiracy this complex this long, then I suggest you read a few more thrillers.

Ace of Spades is definitely for young adults. The prose is sharp and precise, the story terrifying, and our two main characters are fighters we care about. This is an excellent debut and I’ll be watching for more books by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.

Published in June 2021. Gossip Girl meets Get Out in Ace of Spades, a YA contemporary thriller by debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé about two students, Devon & Chiamaka, and their struggles against an anonymous bully. All you need to know is . . . I’m here to divide and conquer. Like all great tyrants do. ―Aces. 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? With heart-pounding suspense and relevant social commentary comes a high-octane thriller from debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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