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…
Dark Academia is not a genre I read a lot of…funnily enough. However, I heard about Ace of Spades last year and immediately it made my ‘Most Anticipated Reads of 2021‘ with the pitch Get Out meets Gossip Girl. Aside from the fact Faridah is my age and I wanted to support her, it was beautifully pitched.
As it is very much Get Out meets Gossip Girl.
Filled with themes of institutional racism, homophobia, micro-aggression, stalking, love, fear, murder and so much more, Faridah’s debut novel was brilliantly written. This novel is perfect for thriller fans looking for something dark set in an academic setting and she draws on real-life issues of institutional racism to really set the scene. I loved how Faridah presented LGBTQ+ relationships, rather than reading about two different humans falling in love, I felt like I was reading about two souls instead. The difference was the spiritual aspect of it, especially with Devon.
The pace of this book was excellent. I normally have a hard time reading thrillers because I hate the unease I feel throughout reading them. However, there isn’t a point in this book where the plot feels slow or stagnant. Every scene adds to the overall arc of the book and builds the anticipation for what we know will be an explosive finale.
Chiamaka. If I was ever looking for a fictional example of a mean girl, it would be Chiamaka. But I liked her? I really liked her. I desperately wanted to hug her whenever she expressed feelings of self-hate in regards to her hair and even the need to be the best at school. It’s a direct consequence of racism presented extremely well. There were instances that I related to on a personal level such as the way she tried to conform to the Eurocentric standard of beauty…
The straight hair over her beautiful curls.
I think a Black girl’s relationship with her hair is such a journey and it’s one that can be heavily influenced by the environment you’re in. As well as receiving the reassurance that you’re pretty with your natural hair plays a part. All of which we saw Chiamaka go through.
“No matter how much I iron down the hair that springs from my scalp, or work as hard as I can. I’m always going to be the other them.”
I loved Chiamaka’s relationship with her mother. The casual references to re-watching Girlfriends and even the experience of sitting between her mother’s legs to get her hair done. It takes me back to Sunday nights before school when my mum would do my hair! It’s such a universal experience for many Black girls and it was lovely to read about it.
This sweet-hearted boy broke my heart a million times over. At first, he irritated me with his impulsive decisions e.g. THAT TWEET. But then, I grew to love how much he loved his mum. You could tell he was someone that loved with his whole heart.
His fear of coming out to his mum was truly heart-breaking. He understood that he was attracted to men but held onto a comment his mum had made about an actor in a TV show for years as a cause for his fear to tell her. It goes to show how much power even the smallest of comments made by our parents can have over us. It takes years to recognise that those comments weren’t made with the intention to hurt us. But yet, we sometimes carry them with us for decades.
I think what truly irritated me was how long it took him to realise that this was clearly a racially motivated attack. Why did it take Terrell to spell it out before he finally understood? Chiamaka accepted it easily enough but it was almost as if he was in denial.
“I have to stop myself from apologising because what would I even be sorry for? Existing too loud?“
I loved how Devon and Chiamaka were clearly the opposite in every sense. Chiamaka was top of the school whilst Devon was easily at the bottom. But yet their paths are forced to cross because of this school and what’s happening to them. Throughout their talks, you still feel that difference between them despite everything that’s happening. It’s also intriguing how even though this was written in the first-person narrative, I often felt like an observer to this story. There was still an incredible amount of emotion that of course, heightened the thriller aspect of the book. A true testament to great writing.
I don’t want to get into the novel too much as I truly don’t want to spoil anything. However, this was a great portrayal of how institutional racism has power and influence over the smallest of things. It shows how often Black children are placed at a disadvantage in the educational system.
The educational system in the UK is slowly trying to make changes to the curriculum. But yet if you’ve read Natives by Akala, you’ll see that young Black boys are still more likely to get excluded and still more likely to be marked harshly by their teachers. Young Black children have to work twice as hard to prove themselves while navigating stereotypes pushed upon them from an early age. They don’t get the option to ignore racism as we see through Devon who desperately wanted to ignore the racial element. As Akala points out, there’s still a lot more work to be done.
“Racism is a spectrum and they all participate in it in some way. They don’t all have white hoods or call us mean things…You can’t escape history and not be affected. Us Blacks, we start hating ourselves…”
Aces were clearly very racist with how they targeted the only Black students in the school. You couldn’t guess who was behind the text messages because nearly every character in that school exhibited racism, homophobia or micro-aggression. I honestly gave up and ended up being really surprised at the end of it.
My only criticism of this book was how certain characters felt incomplete. They were integral to the storyline and then suddenly disappeared from it. Belle and Andre were my biggest concerns and I wish Faridah had rounded off their parts properly.
I also had a few questions about the ending. A lot of the things that happened felt extremely convenient, which I won’t go into because of spoilers.
Nevertheless, this was an outstanding debut novel and I’m excited to see what Faridah writes next.