Stanly is frustrated. Having set himself up as London’s protector, he’s finding that the everyday practicalities of superheroism are challenging at best, and downright tedious at worst. So it’s almost a relief when an attempt is made on his life and Stanly finds himself rushing headlong into a twisted adventure, with enemies new and old coming out of the woodwork. However, even with his friends and his ever-increasing power behind him, he may have bitten off more than he can chew this time. The monsters are coming… and nothing will ever be the same!
Ace of Spiders is the second in Stefan Mohamed’s Bitter Sixteen series. The first one of which, Bitter Sixteen, I adored (so much so, that The Bookbag can be spotted raving about Bitter Sixteen on the back cover of Ace of Spiders). Compelling, warm, achingly funny and with a grasp of pop culture that appealed hugely to a big old geek like me. It has to be said, that whilst I was hugely excited to read the second one in the Bitter Sixteen series, I did approach it with some trepidation. Sequels are notoriously tricky things to pull off – would this fly, or would it flop?
My worries were misplaced – this is a sequel of The Empire Strikes Back proportions – expanding upon everything that was brilliant about the first book, and taking things into a dark direction that makes for compelling reading. Stanly, our lead character, is one of the most relatable teens I’ve read in some time – he’s super powerful, but also suitably flawed. His wit, humour, and humanity lead the reader through the book, delivering incredibly funny asides, and managing to be relatable for, I imagine, most of those who were ever a teen. Other characters are expanded upon too, with excellent results – Eddie, Connor and Sharon serve as a great family unit for Stanly, as do Tara and Kloe – and it’s these characters who really make the book for me.
A recurring issue with stories about superheroes is that the characters can often lack humanity – writers often choose to focus on mystical powers and mighty beings, but fail to look at the people behind those, meaning that stories can feel two dimensional, and lack any kind of emotion, failing to inspire or move the reader. But author Stefan Mohamed knows his pop culture well, and this shows – some of the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer focused on the Scooby gang and their relationships rather than dealing with the big bad of the week, and my favourite issue of a comic has a group of superheroes going to the pub. The exploration of the dynamics of a team and of a group of friends is something that will remain interesting no matter what the situation they are in – and Mohamed really excels at building a vivid, beating heart for his book.
As for the plot, after the origin story that was Bitter Sixteen, Mohamed turns things quite dark here. The humour and optimism remains, but the stakes are upped hugely, with villains on every corner and, yet again, a plot that soars like an Indie superhero blockbuster, defying expectations and entertaining on every single page. Stanly is not just the hero we need, he’s the one we deserve. The writing is brilliant, the characters vivid, and this series continues to be a definite one to watch, given that Mohamed has created another page turner jam packed with action, imagination, intelligence, emotion, humour, and a talking dog! I couldn’t ask for more out of a book.