Ace of Hearts
ACE OF HEARTS
Ace of Hearts is part of LessThanThreePress’s, less than fortunately named, Solitary Traveler
ace/aro line. It’s a bit of a claustrophobic story. I think total there are six human characters
and the animal characters are plot points. The only thing that got me all the way through the
short story was that it was a short story.
Ace of Hearts is the story of Ashton, a former champion horse jumper, who is recovering on
an empty horse farm his mother bought him. Ty is his neighbor who lives in the house and
grounds of the therapy horse clinic his grandfather ran before he died. Ashton is ace. Ty is
trans. In his last competition, Ashton and his horse Atreyu badly missed a jump. The miss
ended in the death of Atreyu, and has left Ashton with lingering injuries and depression.
Ashton swears off ever coming into contact with a horse again. After one of Ty’s horses gets
into Ashton’s property, Ashton confronts Ty, and they have an argument. Ignoring all
cues and vocal requests, Ty keeps completely ignoring Ashton’s boundaries until, within a
week, they’re in a serious relationship and Ashton’s depression is mostly healed.
From the two star review it is probably obvious that I did not care for this book. I
picked it up because I’m always up for reading asexual romances. Hoping one day to read
one that doesn’t make me cringe in some way. This was not that title. The bare bones of the
story aren’t bad but the writing is stilted, and the relationship moves so quickly it’s completely
unbelievable. On top of that, Ty ignores Ashton several times when Ashton tells
him that he doesn’t want to talk about horses or be in a relationship. There is nothing romantic
or sexy about one of the protagonists ignoring the other’s boundaries once—much less
repeatedly. Ashton shouldn’t even be in a relationship, as he’s clearly hurting from losing his
horse in such a horrible accident and should, in this reader’s opinion, be in therapy. So the
entire time that the two are supposed to be falling in love, they’re yelling at each other. It’s just
So enough about how I didn’t like the characters, the plot, or the writing. How did I feel about
the representation? Ashton’s asexuality is represented well, but a common complaint I have with books with an asexual protagonist, is that they often read like a wiki definition. This one is complete with Ashton explaining to Ty that not all asexuals feel the same about sex and others’ sexuality. It reads like Ashton is quoting from a wiki. I can’t even tell if it’s a good or a bad thing that these lecture moments are sprinkled throughout rather than just slammed all together to get over with at once.
There is a whole couple of paragraphs dedicated to describing how much Ashton likes that Ty
doesn’t have a penis to get erect and poke him “in the stomach” after they’ve kissed. And how
much Ashton appreciates that, as an ace person, he doesn’t have to deal with Ty’s sexual
response in that way, and so it’s easier for him to ignore it. And then immediately Ashton asks Ty if Ty needs to go away and masturbate. One: they’ve been dating a whole zero days at this
point, and two: it's handled in a way I can only describe as gross.
As for the representation of trans people, this is more complicated. Small spoiler: Ty is outed by menstruation and a puppy. In fact, the only reason that adorable puppy on the cover is in the story, as far as I can tell, is to out Ty. So be aware that someone being outed is a throw away moment in the narrative. Ty has a lot of insecurity about not being visibly transgender enough, and Ashton does assure Ty that Ashton views him as a man from the beginning. The vulnerability and assurance weren't handled terribly, but I’ve also read it done significantly better.
As far as how trans is presented in this story… I’ve read stories where transgender men
referred to their anatomy using traditionally male anatomical terms and I’ve read stories
where transgender men referred to their anatomy using traditionally female anatomical
terms, Ty is the latter. A large part of trans representation for Ty is that people menstruate, not
just women, and that people have uteruses, not just women. However, there are trans people
who dissociate when hearing their own anatomy referred to using language that refers to their
assigned sex at birth and not their gender. So while some people may find the representation
of trans accurate, others may feel misrepresented.
After all of that, you may be wondering why I would rate this even 2 stars. The writing
itself is bad, the dialogue unnatural, and the relationship moves much too quickly. However,
the pacing of the story was actually okay, and the plot is okay. It reads like a
story that was written very quickly and never edited beyond a copyedit for spelling and
grammar. With some more time invested into it, and a lot more polish, I think Ace of Hearts
has the potential to be a good short story about an ace man and a transgender man getting
together by bonding over horses and trauma. Instead, Ace of Hearts is a not good story about
an ace man and a transgendered man getting together by arguing over horses and trauma.