S.T.A.G.S. – M.A. Bennett

*I was provided with a NetGalley copy of this book by the publisher*

S.T.A.G.S – M.A. Bennett

35154365Nine 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…

Although aspects of this book were very good, with a likeable narrator, an irreverent sense of humour, deliberate flagging and self-awareness of the ridiculousness and slightly farcical nature of the book, there were a few things which dropped it down from very good to just good for me.

Greer is a likeable, believable, funny narrator. A scholarship girl at a posh school, she’s naive enough to trust the Medievals, but worldly enough to figure out, once she gets to Longcross, that something very strange is going on. I particularly liked that the story was told as if Greer was discussing it with the reader after the fact, so little addendums increased the humour of the situation as narrator Greer flagged up aspects of her own past character which were, well, dumb.

I also liked the setting, which was firstly an old school, St Aidan the Great, or STAGS, followed by Longcross country estate, in the Lake District. Big points for making the settings sound believable, but adding in that incredulity which comes when one views the archaic nature of the British aristrocracy through fresh eyes.

Thirdly, I liked the plot. Verging on the ridicculous, the idea of these misfits being taken to Longcross to be hunted and mocked was at once twisted, hilarious, and thoughtful at the same time.

However, I had several complaints and irritations about the book as well, so they dragged down the rating.

The book took too long to get going. Perhaps I’m just bloodthirsty, but when the blurb flags the fact that they end up going on a hunting trip where they’re the prey, I wanted it to happen almost immediately, but instead we had to go through pages and pages of Greer explaining how lonely she was, and how she deliberated over whether or not she’d go, and too much backstory about how Greer had gotten into this posh school. It was all tell tell tell, no showing, and I got bored quickly.

I also (and this is a personal difficulty) took issue with the word Savage being used as a negative. Firstly because it was capitalised every time (why…?), but secondly because savage, in Irish slang, is a really good thing. So the mental disconnect for me between savage as a compliment and Savage as a derogatory term was difficult to get around.

Greer’s is big into film. I mean really, really big into it. So her internal narration is absolutely packed with film references. Which, okay, is fine, but I am not into film, and I didn’t get half of the references. The only ones I did get were the disney ones, and even then, when Cinderella was referenced, it took me ages to figure out that perhaps it wasn’t either of the disney versions being referenced, but perhaps the Rogers and Hammerstein version, starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. But even still, I don’t remember the particular scene which was referenced, so almost all of those references flew right over my head. They also, I think, will date the book quite badly in years to come.

There’s little to no diversity in this book. I mean, as an upper-class British boarding school, it’s expected that the majority of the students will be snooty,  but even still there was zero diversity here. The one PoC character was referred to as the Punjabi Prince. And okay, this is noted in the text as being extremely problematic, but that’s really the only nod to how homogenous this school and its students are. Greer’s supposed to be somewhat aware, so even an internal comment that it’s strange not to see any LGBT students wouldn’t have gone astray.

My last complaint was that the book was kind of predictable. I mean, the blurb gave away that the misfits were the prey, and the start of the book confirmed who survived, and one person who definitely didn’t, so there wasn’t actually a whole lot to figure out as you proceeded through the book. Even the final reveal was something of a let-down, and I had copped it several pages before Greer herself did.

There was a lot of potential in this book, some very funny parts, and a darkly funny twist behind the writer’s mood-setting. But there were a lot of weaknesses as well, which made this a relatively forgettable book in the end.

Three Stars
***

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