S.T.A.G.S – M A Bennett
Look at me go, two weeks into 2019 and I’ve already read five books! Looks like a change in the date didn’t mark a change in my social life, although, after reading this, perhaps that’s a good thing…
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…
When I was growing up, it seemed like all I read were books set at boarding schools. For a time, I even thought going to a boarding school would be jolly exciting. They must have been popular back then because between Mallory Towers, the Worst Witch, Charlotte Sometimes and then Harry Potter, I did rather feel like I was missing out. The boarding schools in those stories were fun and charming and there was always one character who seemed to do everything wrong yet was universally loved. It seems books set at boarding schools had gone a little out of fashion though because I didn’t come across another one until a few years ago when I read the first Rosewood Chronicles and then of course, I found S.T.A.G.S.
Turns out boarding schools aren’t as fun and charming as they once were in literature. I had been drawn to S.T.A.G.S because, well… elite school, secret cult, someone dying, that sounds awesome, but also a bit of me wanted the nostalgia of a cheery misfit making their way through school life. S.T.A.G.S. though man, that was brutal, but in the best way.
I listened to the audio book via my library and the narrator was amazing, S.T.A.G.S is told through the perspective of a Mancunian State School student who gets a scholarship to S.T.A.G.S a school that would have been out of their reach otherwise. Hearing the story told in a lilting Manchester accent just made it all – the isolation, the not fitting in, the class barrier – much more immersive than if I’d read it on my own. I too was just as clueless as to the rules of hunting as Greer and would have likely had a lot of the same reactions, though I don’t think I would have gone huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. Even if I didn’t know what Henry and co were up to.
Anyway, my feelings about hunting aside, this book is pretty great even if your only previous boarding school experience is quaint and adventurous like mine. This has a whole underground cult in it! There were so many moments where you second guessed what was happening and the whole thing kept me on my toes. Plus there is something very intriguing about a book that starts with someone confessing to a murder. Well. Of sorts.
There were lots of subtle pop culture references, an amazing tie in to the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes film and a brief insight into prejudice and how it shapes people.
It’s been so long since I’ve written a review that I wasn’t contractually applied to post I have no idea if I’m doing this right or even if this counts considering someone read it to me, either way, as someone who grew up reading books about boarding schools this was a blast and a whole steaming heap of horrific reality all in one.