Review: S.T.A.G.S

cover-STAGSTitle: S.T.A.G.S
Author: M.A. Bennett
Series: – –
Genre: YA Thriller
Length: Novel
Available: 10th August


Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend.

A twisting thriller for fans of Looking for Alaska and The Hunger Games

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…

Source: ARC from Hot Key Books via Amazon Vine

For me this book was heavily weighed down by what-might-have-beens. It sounded like a great idea – potentially really dark and suspenseful – but sadly missed the mark for one big reason: the narration. I don’t have a problem with first person narratives, but Greer is telling the whole story in the retrospect and she constantly foreshadows stuff, which takes a lot of the mystery and suspense out of everything. How much more interesting could this all have been had we not known that Greer actually lives to tell the tale? Or that the other various things that crop up in the first few pages didn’t happen?

It could have been so good if we’d had a chance to be taken in as Greer is by the various twists and turns of the manipulative Medievals, and likewise been horrified as their true characters are revealed time and again. Maybe we might have fallen for Henry too, instead of side-eyeing Greer throughout for her terrible taste and baffling ability to overlook the far superior Shafeen. However, since we have narrator-Greer constantly whispering in our ear about how wrong they all are, and how dark and cruel and mean it all is, story-Greer is left looking like an idiot. I mean there’s a high chance she would have anyway, because despite her rumoured intelligence (of which we see nothing) and her photographic memory (which serves no purpose except to make her seem special at the beginning), she’s incredibly gullible, not all that bright and kind of annoying with her constant movie references and swooning over Henry.

In fact there’s so much potential here for a really great story about emotional manipulation and peer pressure bullying, even without the awful weekend, that I’m extra annoyed that we didn’t get any of the psychological stuff at all. Instead it all just boils down to rich people being murderous scum. Part of it is an exploration of privilege and the desperate attempt to cling to what last shreds of power they can still hold (which is plenty, let’s be honest), but there’s no depth to it because Henry is old fashioned evil and the other Medievals are 2D upper class bullies.

Then there’s the “twist” of the ending, which I could see coming a mile off and left me seriously disappointed in our heroes. They’re supposed to be smart, but I guess they don’t teach common sense at St. Aidan’s – too busy with all the Ancient Greek. It also left the possibility of a sequel open, but could just as easily have been a final end. I suppose this was intended to make the reader feel uneasy – as they should have felt throughout the rest of the book – but mostly it was just annoying.

Overall this book frustrated me, because there’s a great story here with so much potential, but I feel like the way it was told and Greer herself let the rest down. If you’re looking for a gritty, dark, YA thriller and expecting those blood sports to be bloody, you won’t find that here (except for that poor stag). However, if you want something with a bit of suspense but don’t mind having the mystery and thrills revealed to you in the first chapter then you’ll probably enjoy this. Sadly, I’m in the former camp and although this was a quick, easy read, it didn’t really work for me.

S.T.A.G.S is out 10th August.
Visit M.A. Bennett for more details.


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