Thank you to NetGalley and Peachtree Teen for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review!
What’s new, everyone? In the queer YA novel Aces Wilds: A Heist by debut author Amanda DeWitt, Arthur Jack Shannon (don’t call him Arthur, though) has attended the Elkhollow Preparatory School for three years, and he passes the time by covertly hosting the Beginner’s Blackjack Club in the library’s basement. It’s fitting, considering his mom Aileen is the current CEO of the Las Vegas-based Golden Age Hotel and Casino, which was launched by his maternal grandfather under dubious circumstances. The Shannons only get more suss when you take into account their mafia connections—a part of the family lore that ends up sending Aileen to the slammer and leaving Jack with his two sisters, one of whom is eager to get rid of Golden Age and clean up the Shannon legacy, and their deadbeat dad, who has forgotten Jack on multiple occasions, including plane trips. So what does Jack do upon realizing his mom was snitched on by Peter Carlevaro, the son of a crime lord and the owner of the Imperium Hotel and Casino whose romantic advances had been rejected by Aileen long ago? Organize a revenge heist against Carlevaro and rope into it some friends from the asexual support group with which he communicates on the Discord-esque app Hullabaloo.
Aces Wilds, which will be published next week on September 13th, is an ebullient romp that thrives on its central crew’s contagious charisma. From the start, Jack is an engaging and messy protagonist who has a habit of thinking he’s smooth enough to wrangle together schemes, then tripping over his own chaotic energy. His first-person POV does a good job of bringing you into his teenage head and rooting for him as he introduces you to his underground gambling club, the shady layers of his family, and his support group buddies. Once those buddies make their debut, the fun only heightens with their uproarious banter—mainly the in-person kind, but we get to see a bit of it on Hullabaloo as well.
This isn’t an original opinion, since it seems to be shared by virtually everyone who’s had the chance to read Aces Wild, but Lucky is my personal favorite in the group. The moment when she threatens “I’ll eat your kneecaps” is a splendid encapsulation of her feisty and biting attitude. Remy, who is both ace and nonbinary, is amusing as the target of the adorable crush that Jack ends up growing on them. Admittedly, I do wish the last two members, Gabe and Georgia, had more distinctive personalities. I liked the interactions they had as a pair, but I didn’t really get much of a sense for who they are as separate people.
The ace and aromantic representation in this circle is an extra plus, although it wasn’t as fleshed-out as I would have wanted. Jack’s narration mentions on several occasions that asexuality is a spectrum, but there’s never a point where the concept is truly dissected to display the experiences of ace people. Granted, I don’t think it’s the book’s intention to teach readers all the ins and outs of the spectrum, but some additional nuance would have been preferable.
As for the plot device of Jack’s sister Kerry’s hearing aid being turned into an earpiece for the heist, it definitely leaves me feeling uncomfortable. This flippant inclusion of hearing aids, which play vital parts in the lives of the deaf people who use them, is unnecessary. Aside from a brief reference to Kerry having had a cochlear implant installed in her ear, there’s nothing in the writing for her character to realistically designate her deafness and the challenges that come with using cochlear implants.
My biggest problem, intriguingly enough, isn’t with the book itself, but rather the misleading marketing. When you promote something as “Six of Crows goes to Las Vegas,” you better damn well deliver an intricate, extensive, and electrifying heist that measures up to the Six of Crows themselves and Ocean’s 11. The thing is, Aces Wild‘s heist is very much a background element despite the book’s subtitle being A Heist. Sure, Jack and his pals partake in a bit of pre-heisting in preparation for the main heist, but the interrelationships that comprise their found family is what really drives the book. The main heist doesn’t even happen until the tail-end of the story. Thankfully, I’d heard this criticism ahead of reading the eARC, so I was able to set my expectations. Again, this isn’t an issue in the book itself. If it wants to concentrate on the characters’ repartee and emotional growth, that’s laudable. It’s the PR that requires revision so it can authentically advertise the product and avoid the pitfall of disappointing consumers purely because of erroneous publicity.
Overall, Aces Wild: A Heist is saddled with some flaws, but it’s worth picking up if you’re in search of an ace-representing YA book with loads of hilarious chemistry thrumming amongst its leads.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 75/100