Firstly, I would like to begin this review with deep gratitude to the authors of this book series for letting me into their world and inviting me to listen to their audiobook collection of Aces High, Jokers Wild Books 1-3. Also, thanks for their patience in waiting for me to release this review and their interview, as it has waited a couple of months while I move house and begin renovations, as I wanted to be able to give as much time as I could to do this series justice! Now that things have come to some semblance of normalcy, let’s get on with another book review for this series.
Book One – The Hands We’re Given
Books 1-3 Aces High, Jokers Wild were written and released in 2019 by O.E. Tearmann, a clever pseudonym for two extremely talented independent authors who feel passionate about raising awareness within the LGBTQ+ community and who both have a fantastic set of stories to tell within a sci-fi dystopian world.
We first see the main character, Aiden, a trans man who has recently been promoted to Commander of his own base within a guerrilla militia. His new crew is known as The Wildcards. These officers were well-known and respected as they used to be the best of the best, completing extremely risky missions successfully until recently, but Aidan is there to shake them awake as they haven’t been performing like they used to. Within this dystopian world, people like Aidan are unaccepted, if one has imperfections, one must be eliminated. Book One shows us Aidan’s insecurities about his gender dysphoria (NHS 2021), how it affects him and his struggle with keeping his emotions in check while being newly appointed to a leadership role.
We see a relationship develop between him and his Communications Officer, Kevin, who is accepting and understanding of Aidan’s situation. Whilst listening to book one, I marvelled at how accepting the military organisation that Aidan works for actually are: as they offer him a high-tech AI Virtual Counsellor which helps him through some difficult emotions and doesn’t judge him for being who he truly is. Halfway through, I realised the techniques used by this Virtual Counsellor were actual CBT techniques a lot of counsellors use today, it was just a more personal program. Cleverly created by Tearmann, this AI tech was able to be set to Aidan’s needs and able to conduct body scans in order to assess any physical ailments that may be affecting his mental health – a truly novel idea that was refreshing!
The conclusion of this book showed Aiden feeling more accepted by the crew and his Communications Officer, having built up a romantic relationship with him. There was a focus on Aiden’s sexuality, and there were a few highly erotic scenes in a few chapters, focusing on the feelings created between these two characters, as well as the physical act of lovemaking. However, I must stipulate, that this is far from 50 Shades. The book does focus on a relationship arc, showcasing the emotional difficulties a trans man might face by not feeling ‘normal’, if we then couple this in a world where trans people are persecuted and murdered for just being themselves, it is understandable how Aiden can feel so out of place.
Book Two – Call The Bluff
During the second book listen-through of the audiotape, the story focused more on the world that Aiden and his crew reside in, Seven Corporations rule what used to be the US, in accordance to strict codes of conduct of what they judge to be ‘morality’. The Wildcards become involved in another dangerous mission, one of their riskiest and manage to pull it off after a previous team failed, costing them their lives.
Book Two sets the scene better of what sort of world The Wildcards live in, and what ethics and morals people have. Tearmann uses this to be able to set out a futuristic environment, however, it does feel as though this could be within our current time frame which was exciting. The reader gets a full understanding of what the landscape is like: a barren and empty desert like no man’s land, which is full of peril. Regular corporation drones scan the land, searching for unauthorised people or tech, which they can destroy automatically – this is a regular threat that The Wildcards face on a daily basis, having to turn everything off similar to the points in the Matrix where the sentinels are searching for the humans, and as a listener, I felt the tension!
Previously in Book One, Aiden found a teenage girl, (Tweak) who is a savante (Treffert, 2009) and highly skilled in tech, showing up the adults who specialise in their own field and making a mockery out of their work – in a completely humourous and adorable fashion. This girl takes no shit and will dish out hell if anyone were to mess with her. Here we see a little character progression with her, she shows more vulnerability as well as her more violent side.
Naturally, the team manages to pull off this highly dangerous mission and they seem to build a stronger bond, sharing more of themselves; likening themselves to a family. This book was a brilliant read, and I was encouraged to see Aidan and Kevin were still strong together, although Aiden wasn’t sharing his full ‘self’ with Kevin. We do see Kevin put himself in a highly dangerous situation, which made me think we might lose him – that Aiden would lose him, but in the end, he is safe and sound.
Book Three– Raise The Stakes
The Wildcards in Book Three face their most challenging mission yet – to take out the Corporations unfair ‘scoring’ system, which keeps people in their place as should their personal score drops too low then they will be killed. It’s a completely fresh idea within the sci-fi world and helps keep the readers’ interest in learning more about the authors’ world.
We do see more character building – everyone has their own secrets, and Kevin has his own issues he needs to work through in being honest about where he comes from. Kevin was born into the higher society within the Corporation, his parents worked internally and tried their hardest to fight against the system and create something better for their child. When we read about Kevin, we read that he was a perfect genetic specimen in every way. He was handsome, his genes were handpicked by the Corporation and he was incredibly intelligent with one ‘flaw’ that the Corporation didn’t know about: he was gay. He kept this a secret from the Corporation, but as he defected to work with the guerrilla organisation he found they were accepting. He worried about telling Aiden and his crewmates that his family were ‘higher ups’ of their enemy, would it change their perception of him?
Short answer: no. They knew already and didn’t care as they knew who he was and how he felt about the cause he was fighting for. He fought for equality and fairness, to live in a world where people were not controlled through death and violence, for people to be able to truly be themselves.
Regarding Tweak, we see her character become completely vulnerable and she connects with Aiden on an emotional level, confiding in him that she is a genetic ‘mutant’, she was designed through her genes and experimented on by the enemy Corporation. Her character becomes completely vulnerable, and I felt as though I were building a real affection for her personality, having worked previously with teens who had issues myself, it was a familiar feeling of joy when we see Tweak succeed and overcome her difficulties.
Again, we see more of the physical relationship between Aiden and Kevin, as well as troubles with their bond where they both are behaving stubbornly, not communicating but are still able to pull it together and make it work. This is a lovely concept, as we all know that within relationships there are ups and downs, but that if you work at it they can succeed. These books do show a lot of positive techniques of how to overcome and communicate by being oneself, honest and upfront with each other, a refreshing take.
I would 100% recommend these books as they have a fantastic plot, brilliant character progression and captivating environment contrasts where danger lurks behind every corner, but there’s always room for love, family and togetherness.
If you are an open individual who believes that love is love, then this is the book series for you. I was completely taken in by these novels and became attached way too quickly having recognised many of my faults and life experiences in these books. The sci-fi and dystopian genre now have a fantastic addition and needs to be explored fully! I can easily see fan-fiction emanating from these books, and I am aware that Tearmann has been writing backstories and novellas to their characters, which I think is fantastic as it really does provide a more stable world.
In short: I couldn’t not listen to these audiobooks: whether it be the narrator’s take on the characters or the storyline itself, it was gripping and I needed to know what was going to happen next. Speaking in a world where there has been so much positive movement recently with regards to the LGBTQ+ community and society being more accepting of others’ differences, I can see how the world of 2021 can easily turn into a backward intolerable world that Tearmann describes. It echoes closely the thoughts and intolerance of some of today’s community, which is a minority. However, all it takes is one madman in power who believes the short-sighted beliefs and doesn’t accept people for who they are for us to fall into the dystopian madness that Tearmann showcase.
The Aces High, Jokers Wild Series is bound to leave you hot and flustered, gasping for more as you delve deeper into a world that closely echoes our own.
Aces High, Jokers Wild Summary
Theme: These books are dystopian sci-fi, which delves into the controversial world of discrimination and hate towards others who don’t fall into neatly categorised boxes like the masses do.
Description: This series I would say is appropriate for an adult market, as there are ideals from the antagonist that could be misinterpreted to younger, more impressionable minds. Also with graphic love-making scenes, it is definitely made for a mature audience. The books hold an additional theme from the LGBTQ+ community, with several of the characters identifying in different ways, this book series really is eye-opening and also educates the reader about the LGBTQ+ community.
Narration: The series are read from a third-person view, each chapter targeting either the main character, Aiden, or Kevin his partner. This is interesting as the makes the reader aware that there are more intricacies behind the stories of these two, and you know right away that they are two incredibly important characters to the plot. With the third book bringing me to tears, I’m sure it will generate some emotion from you as you will feel closely connected to the characters.
Narrator: Kirt Graves
For a fabulous set of books, Tearmann needed to decide who was going to be the person to narrate their books, turning them into the engrossing audiobooks that I listened to. It’s important to take note of this narrator, as he deals with a lot of difficult situations: different accents, explicit sex scenes that may make most people blush and even was able to express character nuances and vulnerability.
He was able to read and express the personality of a timid, teenager, a bold character who acts as though nothing can hurt him and successfully produced a perfect English accent. The latter can be so difficult to produce as the English accent is nothing like how the narrator normally spoke: in an American accent. Being English myself, I couldn’t work out whether he was English doing an outstanding American accent or American doing an outstanding English accent, the two don’t usually mesh very well and can be extremely challenging to switch between.
Kirt seemed to be an accent connoisseur, he managed what I believe was a New York accent and even the accent of an Arabic character, the talent was endless. Tearmann made the right decision when hiring him as part of their team, and during our interview, they were extremely pleased with the results that Graves produced because he was brilliant. I do feel that listening to the books would give off a different feel compared to reading them, because of his ability to project certain emotions through to the listener.
Being one of the most popular Audible narrators, after having won awards and everything, it’s a must that you go check out his works, I have provided a link to his website below which connects to his social media and merch!
O.E. Tearmann is a pen name for a writing duo: Olivia Wylie and E.S. Argentum.
The O. in O.E. Tearmann, Olivia Wylie (she/her), is a professional horticulturist and business owner who specializes in the restoration of neglected gardens. When the weather keeps her indoors, she enjoys researching and writing about the plant world, the future, and the complexities of being human. Her solo work is in illustrated non-fiction works of ethnobotany, intended to make the intersection of human history and plant evolution accessible to a wider audience. She lives in Colorado with a very patient husband and a rather impatient cat. Her works can be viewed here.
As the “E” in the O.E. Tearmann writing duo, E.S. Argentum (they/them) brings to a life a cast of eccentric, loveable characters. They bring the same passion for diverse, character-driven stories seen in Aces High, Jokers Wild to their solo work. E.S Argentum’s fantasy and sci-fi romances center on GLBTQ+ relationships with the emotional comfort of your favorite puff piece, layered with rich, unique twists. They have short stories published in multiple anthologies under the pseudonym of Emily Singer, including Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Crossing Colfax and Ultimate Power, from Northwest press. When they’re not writing, they’re generally found playing video games, having existential crises, or napping with their cat. Their work can be viewed here.
You can find them on Twitter and Facebook!
Argentum’s Website – https://argentumbooks.com
Kirt Graves Website – https://www.kirtreads.com/
O.E. Tearmann Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/wildcards1407
O.E. Tearmann Twitter – https://twitter.com/ETearmann
O.E. Tearmann Website – https://www.oetearmann.com/theauthor
Olivia Wylie Website – www.leafingoutgardening.com
Treffert, D. (2009) ‘The savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. A synopsis: past, present, future.’ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 364(1522), pp. 1351–1357.