S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett

The Blurb On The Back:

Nine students.  Three blood sports.  One deadly weekend.

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into sixth form at the exclusive St Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as STAGS.  Just when she thinks she’ll never make any friends, Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon 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 STAGS, she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when she joins the chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, it becomes apparent that Henry’s parents are not at home … and that the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants.  The students are at the mercy of their volatile host.

Over the next three days, as the three blood sports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly sadistic, Greer comes to a horrifying realisation … It’s not the wild game that Henry is hunting, but the very misfits he’s brought with him from school. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

16-year-old Greer MacDonald grew up in with her dad (a wildlife cameraman) after her mum walked out when Greer was a baby.  When Greer’s dad gets a two-year job overseas, her teacher talks her into taking the scholarship exam for St Aidan the Great School or S.T.A.G.S. (an exclusive boarding school).  Although Greer gets into the Sixth Form, her classmates ostracise her, which is why she’s surprised when Henry de Warlencourt (the most popular boy in the school) invites her to join him and the other Medievals (the School’s 6 prefects who form the most exclusive clique) to an exclusive weekend of huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ at his family’s stately home.

Also attending the weekend are Chanel (the daughter of the man who invented a must-have smartphone and who’s desperate to be accepted by the Medievals) and Shafeen (the son of an Indian banker who’s frequently taunted about his race).  Greer soon realises that something about the weekend is terribly wrong – the only adults are Henry’s biddable servants and it quickly becomes obvious that the Medievals are keen on a very human form of prey …

M. A. Bennett’s debut YA novel is a predictable thriller that can’t escape the flaws in its premise and is further hampered by bland characterisation (notably of the antagonist who never rises above the page) and Bennett’s reliance on referring to films as a shorthand for description.

Although Henry’s reasons for hosting the weekend would make sense in a pre-social media world when it would be easier to conceal the activities of the Medievals, I don’t think it rang true in the modern world where teenagers are rarely without mobile phones (even when asked not to bring them) and people are quick to turn to the media when tragedy strikes.  I also wasn’t really clear what the purpose of the weekend was – is it to cow the victims into submission or to eradicate them completely – and it’s made murky by the late inclusion of a conspiracy element that unfortunately made me switch off from the book completely.

Greer’s quirk of constantly describing people, places and scenes by reference to films rapidly grated with me and everyone else is thinly characterised and interchangeable to the point of caricature, particularly Henry who never convinced as a charmer.

Ultimately the book was too flawed for me to enjoy although I may check out Bennett’s next book.

S.T.A.G.S will be released in the United Kingdom on 10th August 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC of this book.

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