Author: Amanda DeWitt
Publication date: September 13, 2022
Genre: YA contemporary
My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Okay, so. The blurb on this one had me 100% sold–a heist in the vein of Six of Crows featuring an all-asexual cast? You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect intersection of my interests. The thing is, this marketing tactic really did the book a disservice. This is not like Six of Crows, minus perhaps the found family element and some teens engaging in illegal activity. It was a fun read, and the ace rep was wonderful, but I’ll admit, I felt rather let down. Were it not for my extreme soft spot for good ace rep, this would likely have been a lower rating. Read on for a better breakdown of my thoughts!
Some people join chess club, some people play football. Jack Shannon runs a secret blackjack ring in his private school’s basement. What else is the son of a Las Vegas casino mogul supposed to do?
Everything starts falling apart when Jack’s mom is arrested for their family’s ties to organized crime. His sister Beth thinks this is the Shannon family’s chance to finally go straight, but Jack knows that something’s not right. His mom was sold out, and he knows by who. Peter Carlevaro: rival casino owner and jilted lover. Gross.
Jack hatches a plan to find out what Carlevaro’s holding over his mom’s head, but he can’t do it alone. He recruits his closest friends—the asexual support group he met through fandom forums. Now all he has to do is infiltrate a high-stakes gambling club and dodge dark family secrets, while hopelessly navigating what it means to be in love while asexual. Easy, right?
A wild romp told in a can’t-look-away-from voice, Aces Wild is packed with internet friend hijinks and ace representation galore!
First things first–and I cannot stress this enough–Jack is not Kaz Brekker. Full stop. Kaz is a scheming, calculating mastermind; Jack is an impulsive card-counter who is in over his head. Kaz shuts down his emotions (to an unhealthy extent); Jack is actually in touch with his feelings. Kaz’s idea of revenge is getting rich and exacting brutal psychological and/or physical damage; Jack just wants to get a guy sent to jail for his crimes. The thing is, this doesn’t make Jack a bad character! He has complex emotional motivations, with conflicting feelings toward his family and a deep awareness of his loneliness. He is self-deprecating and often hilarious; a few times, I audibly laughed while reading his narration. If you can adjust your expectations and anticipate this book being what it is–a fun, chaotic, contemporary romp–you’ll enjoy it a lot more.
Now, on to actual review points! As I said a moment ago, the best words to describe this book are “chaotic” and “fun.” The story itself is patently implausible and sometimes relies on occurrences and tropes that scream “cheesy movie” more than “legitimate heist.” Even labeling the book as a heist is rather misleading; it’s more a story of revenge espionage with a heft side dose of self-discovery and family drama. Many of the plot points relied on (a) one character’s extreme computer skills (all “Hollywood hacking,” alas), (b) bizarre coincidences, or (c) logic that doesn’t make much sense. None of these points are necessarily bad, but the combined effect is to make suspension of belief rather difficult and undercutting some of the stronger points of the book. For instance, there’s a very interesting repeated tie-in of Arthurian mythology, but without adequate fleshing out, the value of that element is diminished and sometimes feels like an afterthought. It’s squarely in the category of “fun if you don’t think too hard about it,” which isn’t necessarily a problem for YA, but may be disappointing for readers who want a stronger plot backbone.
The friendships in the book met a similar fate. Some of the side characters had fantastic dynamics, with plenty of bickering and banter, but for others, their development came across as one-dimensional and half-baked. One character, Georgia, had no real identifiable personality traits, and the romance between Jack and another character lacked any sort of convincing foundation. The best relationships were between Jack and his sisters, but even those sometimes floundered. All that said, I am still a sucker for books about internet friends meeting in real life (for a better example of one, check out Catfishing on CatNet, which is also full of queer rep), and I enjoy when the dialogue genuinely feels like teenagers talking, which was the case here.
Of course, the absolute best part of this book is the prominent ace rep. An all-asexual cast is pretty much unheard of in fiction of any sort, so seeing the relationships that develop between the characters was immensely gratifying. The variety of representation meant that all sorts of myths could be debunked–there is an asexual romance (but there is also an aromantic character, so there’s balance), there is a sharp criticism of the “you’re too young to know” mentality, there is BIPOC ace rep and nonbinary ace rep…there’s a lot to work with. Now, this book doesn’t cover the whole ace spectrum: there is no demisexual or gray-ace rep, and with only one aro character, there isn’t much exploration of what being aromantic means. This isn’t a bad thing, but readers who don’t know much about asexuality going in might mistake this book for a comprehensive depiction, rather than a broad (but incomplete) cross-section.
Overall, this book is something like cotton candy: it’s a little flimsy in its construction, and it doesn’t last very long, but the overall result is still fun. If you’re looking for more ace books in your life, it’s not a bad pick; it just isn’t my first choice. Thankfully, with the recent proliferation of ace titles, there are plenty of other options. Stay tuned for a list of those, coming soon to a blog near you.
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an eARC of this book via NetGalley! All opinions are my own.
great review!! definitely agree that it didn’t feel like a heist at all—major mismarketing on that front, but the friendship aspects were good
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