Saturday 11 June 2022

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Review: Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (#Ad)

A photo of both editions of Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé; the original edition of the book with the navy blue cover at the bottom, vertical, and the one year anniversary edition with the yellow/orange ombre cover on top, at a diagonal, pointing top right. There is a rainbow pin sittong on the top left corner of the original edition, and a ace of spades playing card poking out from under the two books, top left. They're on a rainbow flag, which is on a larger Pride flag, showing the black and brown stripes.

I was sent an ARC of the First Anniversary Edition for free by Usborne for the purposes of providing an honest review.

Links with an asterisk (*) are Ad: Affiliate Links, which means if you make a purchase through them, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Published: Original Edition: 10th June 2021 , First Anniversary Eition: 9th June 2022 | Publisher: Usborne | Source: Gift / Publisher
Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Website

A compelling, incendiary, and unputdownable thriller with a shocking twist, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé delves deep into the heart of institutionalized racism with this compulsive debut.

Hello, Niveus High. It's me. Who am I? That's not important. All you need to know is...I'm here to divide and conquer. - Aces

Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students' dark secrets to light.

Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can't escape the spotlight when his private photos go public.

Head girl Chiamaka isn't afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power.

Someone is out to get them both. Someone who holds all the aces. And they're planning much more than a high-school game...
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I've been wanting to read Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé for quite a while, and decided to save it for this year's Pride Month. It's been raved about, so I was expecting great things, but while it mostly lived up to the hype, the ending left me disappointed.

The story is narrated by Devon and Chiamaka. They both attend Niveus Academy, a prestigious private school, but they're from different sides of the tracks. Devon is from the poorer, rougher part of town, while Chiamaka is from the more affuluent part of town. Chiamaka is the most popular girl at school, who will do whatever it takes to keep her position to secure the furture she wants. Devon, as a scholarship kid, goes under the radar; he has few friends, and no-one really knows who he is. All he cares about is working on his music and getting a place at Juliard. But the they have a few things in common; they're the only Black students at school, and they're the main targets of Aces. Aces is an anonymous bully, sending text messages to the student body, revealing their secrets. They out Devon as gay, and that he used to be in a secret realtionship with another student. They reveal that Chiamaka was rejected by the guy she likes, a private conversation between just the two of them. But what starts off as awful bullying, takes a more sinister turn, as it becomes clear they're being followed, more things revealed that no-one could have known.

Ace of Spades is absolutely gripping, but it's difficult to discuss without spoiling the story. I think it's best to go in knowing almost nothing, to feel the full impact of what Devon and Chiamaka go through. What happens in it is terrible, but it just gets worse and worse, until Chiamaka and Devon decide to work together to try and figure out who is behind Aces, and why they're targetting them. Devon is terrified of what might happen if his ma finds out his gay, or the people from his neighbourhood. Chiamaka has secrets of her own that she is desperate to keep burried. But as the story continues, it just gets more and more disturbing. Around two thirds in, it started to feel more like a horror than a thriller.

It's absolutely messed up, and horrifying. When I got to the reveal, my jaw was on the floor. But still, there's more to come. It's a terrifying story, and I was so sickened and upset by what I was reading, and cried at one point. The tension just built and built, the sense of foreboding and how things just got more and more sinister had me sitting on the edge of my seat. It got to the point where I just wasn't enjoying it anymore. That's not a criticism of the story, but this it's about racism and other serious topics. With other thrillers and horrors, you can enjoy how clever they are, the twists you don't expect, the fear the author can make you feel. It's completely different with Ace of Spades, because while the story is fictional, it's rooted in very real issues. I could appreciate Àbíké-Íyímídé's fantastic skill at crafting this mysterious and suspenseful story, how brilliantly plotted it was, and how I had so many theories about who Aces could be that never fully fit, and kept me guessing. Honestly, in that sense, it was amazing! But I just felt more and more disgusted by what I was reading, about what Chiamaka and Devon experience and are put through. It just wasn't possible to revel in excitement over the tension, because it was just so horrific.

But then the ending came, and it was a massive let down. The tension built and built, and I Was on tenterhooks, terrified at what was to come... and then it just all ended and wrapped up in a few pages. I definitely feel like it should have been developed more. And it left me with so many questions and other issues. It felt too easy, in various ways. It almost felt too convenient. There's so much that I'm frustrated about, that I need to talk about, so if you haven't read the book, don't click the button below, as it's full of spoilers.

I was really, really disappointed in the ending, to the point that it's kind of skewed the way I view the whole story, but I have to admit that it was brilliant. Mysterious, suspenseful, gripping. I couldn't put it down and I was desperate to know what was going to happen next. But I also really appreciate how Àbíké-Íyímídé dealt with racism in this story, how it wasn't like normal thrillers, how it wasn't a story you could turn away from, how you had to face exactly Chiamaka and Devon went through. In that, I feel it's also a really important and powerful story, and one I definitely feel everyone needs to read. So yes, I'm disappointed. But do I recommend Ace of Spades? I do, yeah. And will I read Àbíké-Íyímídé's next book? Absolutely.

An aside: On the day I sat down to write this review, having finished my copy with the original cover that was given to me as a gift - after actually writing everything above - I received a copy of the First Anniversary Edition from Usborne. This edition comes with three extra chapters set nine months after Ace of Spades finishes, set during Pride, Terrell's playlist that they listen to on the way to Pride, and a letter from Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé about Ace of Spades' first year. Plus there's that stunning exclusive cover. They're really awesome additions, and the extra chapters answer briefly some of my questions, which I appreciate. So thank you to Usborne for the review copy.

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