S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett
Published: 10 August 2017 by Hot Key Books
Genre: Thriller, Young Adult
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Synopsis from Goodreads: Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend. 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..
Review: This is one of those books that has been marketed well – the cover was gorgeous whilst the blurb was tantalisingly simple. S.T.A.G.S started off well, the premise really intrigued me, it’s exactly the sort of mystery/thriller that would entice me – old private school dripping in privilege and thousands of years worth of history, and the misfits who couldn’t be more out of place. The writing style was pretty brilliant – the teaser first sentences at the beginning of the chapters were genius. But my favourite had to be the canny, wry asides peppered throughout the text – these cleverly acknowledged the frustration felt when characters respond in a silly way to something deeply obvious to the reader.
Going back to the premise, the idea that people are so entrenched in traditionalism and conservatism that they take preservation to the very extremes is an interesting concept and one that was refreshing to see in a YA book. There were also some promising conversations between characters in the book covering issues like privilege, racism, proliferation of social media which rang true. We are surrounded by these issues on a daily basis and dialogue is absolutely integral to working through issues. I thought Bennett handled both sides of the argument really well – the marginalisation that some characters felt, as misplaced it might seem to some readers, was deftly portrayed.
Buuuuut… I felt these messages were lost within a convoluted plot that required the suspension of major disbelief and took something plausible and made it unnecessarily into something much bigger. The ending felt really contrived to me. It was like the author was trying so hard to shoehorn in what may have been her favourite film/literary ending that she bent and twisted the story to pay homage to this. Don’t get me wrong, the references to the movies, from film noir to cult classics, to blockbusters was great and I liked how the protagonist tied them into key scenes. I just didn’t think the references needed to be woven into the actual plot… you’ll see what I mean when you read the book!
One of the things I did enjoy was Bennett’s portrayal of the intricacies of life in the upper echelons of society! The details around the bloodsports, etiquette and traditions, as well as manor house life was brilliantly described and it was clearly very well-researched. However, at times it did feel like a disproportionate amount of page time was given to building the setting of Longcross, sacrificing character development in the process. it meant we didn’t get to know the main characters beyond the stock description given at the beginning to set the scene. I found it difficult to engage with the characters and bring myself to care too much about their predicaments, it all seemed a little too passive. It was a shame because I feel there was much more scope to show the obvious differences between the characters social backgrounds rather than tell us especially in such a setting.
I won’t go into the ending itself because #nospoilers but all in all I am disappointed in S.T.A.G.S because it started off really strong! It was different to most other YA thrillers in terms of the premise and setting but that wasn’t enough to convince me to suspend my disbelief at the ending. If you’re after a solid YA thriller with a great story and character development do check out One of Us is Lying 🙂
Do you have any YA thriller recs? Let me know in the comments below!!