Ace of Spades has been pitched as “Get Out meets Gossip Girl”. And while the description is accurate, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s debut is incredibly well-done in a refreshingly unique way. The dark academia thriller centers queer Black characters, dedicated to “all the Black kids drowning in the sunken place, desperately trying to claw their way out.” Much like the movie it’s compared to, Ace of Spades contains many allegorical parallels to the real experiences of Black people in predominantly white institutions. The fear and horror that the book elicits is not in its mystery, but in its status as a fiction that parallels a contemporary reality.
Two students are chosen to be senior prefects at the elite Niveus Private Academy. Chiamaka Adebayo, who has been Head Prefect for three years in a row, braves the social scene at Niveus as one of its most popular students. Though she knows many people anticipate her downfall from the social ladder, Chiamaka focuses on her plan to attend Yale and her goal to make her friend Jamie become her boyfriend.
On the opposite end of the social ladder, Devon Richards keeps to himself. The last thing he expects is to be chosen as prefect. But since prefects are put in the running for valedictorian, Devon wants to boost his college application as much as possible. As a scholarship kid whose mother sacrificed a lot for him to attend Niveus Prep, Devon focuses on refining his Juilliard application.
But being announced as prefects takes a turn as senior year spins out of control. An anonymous all-knowing figure who goes by the name of Aces sends text messages to the student body, spilling Chiamaka and Devon’s most intimate secrets. As the anonymous texts develop into something more sinister, Chimaka and Devon find their futures at risk. And when the two team up to uncover the truth, things take a darker turn as Aces reveals themselves to be more dangerous than Devon and Chiamaka could have ever imagined…
Ace of Spades takes a deep dive into the intersection between race, class, gender and sexuality. Through the alternating perspective chapters, the differences between Devon and Chiamaka’s experiences are evident. The allegorical nature of the book emphasizes the role of complicity and history in shaping patterns of discrimination such as homophobia and racism, and most especially anti-Blackness.
The writing was beautifully done—Ace of Spades is the kind of book that grips readers from the first page and doesn’t let go until you have read the entire thing from cover to cover at least once. The first part of the book has more familiarity to the Gossip Girl comparison. But personally, I found myself completely riveted by the second half, when the book turns more sinister and reminiscent of Get Out. And once I was finished, I felt compelled to pick it up and read it all over again. The pacing is perfectly matched for the story. Though there aren’t many likable characters, they are all incredibly written.
While I fell in love with the concept for Ace of Spades, the execution was masterfully done—Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé delivers an impressive debut novel. Ace of Spades is a must-read, especially for those who enjoy thrillers, dark academia, and intelligent books featuring diverse characters.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé was published on June 10th, 2021.